It’s that time of year again when we become glued to our television screens and our DVRs are put to work and stretched to their limit. Yes, this is the week that kicks off the fall season. Amongst many returning favorites, we see the new shows that the networks have been hyping for the last few weeks. If you are lucky enough to receive press packets for these shows, you would have seen all of the pertinent pilots months ago. If you are like me, you have to work with the few early releases so graciously provided through sites like Hulu.
Last year, I was able to predict the fates of all reviewed shows for NBC. ABC on the other hand? That network’s decisions still perplex me to this day. This year, can I predict the fates of these shows before they officially air?
Check back later for my opinions on Forever, Selfie, and A to Z. But first up, premiering this week, we have…
Red Band Society
Wednesdays @ 9:00, FOX
Premieres September 17th
Welcome to Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital and the pediatric ward. There you find a bunch of teenagers with unconventional lives, seeing as they pretty much live in the hospital, and conventional teenage problems, seeing as they are, well, teenagers. We gain this introduction through Jordi Palacios, a kid who comes to the hospital and begs to get his leg amputated, and bitchy cheerleader Kara Souders, a girl who cannot be inconvenienced with being sick in the first place. Through them we meet the kids already in residence who come to form the Red Band Society, so named for the red admissions bands they accumulate with each hospital stay and surgery. Oh, and there’s a kid in a coma who narrates all of the proceedings. He’s a part of the society too for some reason, so you can’t forget him.
Familiar Faces: The biggest name by far is Octavia Spencer, Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning actress for The Help. As Nurse Jackson, she is at once a hard-ass and a delight, as would be expected. Also knowns include Griffin Gluck as Charlie, who I enjoyed in Back In The Game while it was still on the air, and Dave Annable as Dr. Jack McAndrew, who you may recognize as the Justin Walker from Brothers and Sisters. The rest of the young cast resides in one of two categories: apparent newcomer or actor with little of note to their name.
This Reminds Me: At the very beginning, this actually reminded me of Glee. It was the cheerleaders, obviously. And I have a feeling this show might go the same way as Glee. Not the instant cult classic way, but the way too overly important and sappy way that Glee adopted in later seasons. Or, I could be wrong and all of those never before knowns will quickly become household names ala Lea Michele and Chris Colfer. Others have compared it to Glee for its fresh take on the teenage dramedy, so I’m not completely off base here. If only there was singing…
Other Aspects to Consider: This show has already gotten some good buzz. It certainly is a bit different from the typical medical drama, so that’s a good starting point. But the pilot just did not jive with me for some reason. Here are a few specifics:
While the cheerleaders on Glee were stereotypical and yet amusing, Kara Smouders is way too over the top for my taste. So much so that her one sweet moment of human connection still left me cold. Maybe I’m just too out of touch with teenagers these days, but I truly hope no one as terrible as her exists outside of fiction. This over-the-top attitude extends beyond Kara to the platitudes that some of the other characters express throughout the pilot. Just a bit too cliché for my tastes.
In that very same vein, there is a scene in which the story of Henry VIII is used as an allegory for the relationship between two of the main characters. Perhaps the target audience for the show is a bit younger and a bit more obtuse, but that was a bit too nail-on-the-head. I get that this is a quick way to introduce us to the characters and what is going on with them, but really, I prefer showing rather than telling despite the time it might take.
The framing device needs a bit of work as well. I feel like having a main character in a coma provides an opportunity for some interesting back story that can unfold at a slow yet even pace throughout the series. So I’m not sure why this particular boy can speak for himself and be completely aware of everything that is going on, even while in a coma. He can even speak to others when they are close to death, apparently. Why? Really, does anyone know why they chose to frame the show this way?
With all of that said, there is at least one good. As I mentioned earlier, Octavia Spencer is a delight, especially given that her character is introduced through the name written on her coffee cup, “Scary Bitch.” I have faith that she knows how to pick good projects, given her track record, and that makes me think I must be missing something here. Or maybe I just have to wait for future episodes to see the promise everyone else has?
Remaining Questions: Will Griffin Gluck’s comatose Charlie continue as narrator throughout the series, or will each episode alternate Glee-style? And on a depressing note, will this dramedy be realistic enough to explore what happens if one of these kids dies in the hospital?
The Verdict: On life support, though I hate to say it given the subject matter. The Red Band Society does have a new angle on the medical drama that has been up until recently only covered in single episodes. That has promise. But the way in which the characters were introduced left me cold. This show depends upon rooting for this band of kids, and once I had finished watching this first hour, I could not identify with a single one. I will catch a few more episodes to see if it finds its groove before making a decision, but given the state of my DVR, I doubt Red Band Society will find a lasting place on its busy schedule.