RED BAND SOCIETY Sneak Peek: I’d rather be a comma than a full stop

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With an episode that straddles tones effortlessly and leaves you feeling good, Red Band Society is a show to keep on your radar this fall.

Pilots are often as difficult to manage as juggling: you need to set up a whole new world with new characters (infused with a distinct personality and recognizable traits), and hope those balls stay up in the air, resulting in a successful formula. There is always the risk that you are making it too exposition-heavy, thus too boring for viewers’ attention spans.

More importantly, pilots aren’t usually written with a specific actor in mind. It always takes the writers a few episodes to feel the actors out and write to their strengths. At the same time the writers are also trying to find the right tone and direction for the show. Sometimes, a show will change radically in subsequent episodes or will not take advantage of whatever promise they showed. More often than not, pilots are weak episodes because of all these extenuating circumstances coming together at once.

However, Red Band Society? Is one strong pilot that does a whole lot of things right. But can it keep it up?

Polseres Vermelles. Courtesy TV3

Polseres Vermelles. Courtesy TV3

Its premise is quite simple, but effective: Adapted by Margaret Nagle from the Spanish TV show Polseres Vermelles, and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, the show follows a group of teenagers who find unlikely camaraderie in fellow patients suffering from serious illnesses (cancer, eating disorders, heart conditions, and more) in a pediatric ward in a Los Angeles hospital. The drawing factor is that this motley crew would not be likely talk to outside those four walls were it not for the diseases that brought them together.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s not unlike the early press for a a little FOX show called Glee many years ago. Unfortunately, Red Band Society is going to get compared to it quite a lot in the next few months despite having a totally different setting and higher stakes for its characters from the beginning, due to its subject matter. Yes, it is true not a lot of people could have predicted Glee‘s fate given how promising its  first 13 episodes were, but audiences should give Red Band Society the benefit of the doubt, for now, because it carries a poignancy that is certain to leave viewers coming back for more.

Call me delusional, but I do have the feeling this show will ultimately not fail where Glee did, or at least, it will not go off the rails as quickly. The serious matter grounds the show and if the pilot is any indication, it will pack a few emotional punches per hour.

But let’s get to the specifics.

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The RBS cast, and the tropes. Click on the image to see its full size! Courtesy FOX

As you might have seen in the posters, the main characters fall into the classic teen drama roles. We have the mean girl, the rebel, the leader, the girl next door,  and so on. Yet there are already hints that those are just the outermost layer, and that these kids are more complex than they might seem at first sight. The fact that the cast comes off as a likeable, earnest, fresh bunch certainly does not hurt. (It should also be noted most of the actors playing the teenagers are refreshingly close enough to actually being teenagers.)

Charlie (Griffin Gluck), “Coma Boy”,  is our narrator and responsible for guiding us in our foray into the hospital dynamics, as well as the character doing the heaviest of the exposition lifting. The first main characters we actually see on screen are Mean Girl Kara (Zoe Levin), who, spoiler alert, faints during her cheerleading practice, and Jordi (Nolan Sotillo), the “New Guy”, who doesn’t take no for an answer and makes some bold moves to get checked into the hospital. Then we have the “Rebel” Leo (Charlie Rowe), battling cancer and one of the veterans at the hospital wing, “Girl Next Floor” Emma (Ciara Bravo), with a eating disorder and finally, “Player” Dash (X Factor vet Astro).

Griffin Gluck and Octavia Spencer. Courtesy FOX

Griffin Gluck and Octavia Spencer. Courtesy FOX

Rounding out the cast are some of TV’s most recognizable vets as the wing’s trusty nurses. Wilson Cruz and Rebecca Rittenhouse appear as nurses Kenji and Brittany. The fantastic Octavia Spencer plays Nurse Jackson — the warden of the group’s wing and the “scary bitch” with a heart of gold — who adds gravitas even to the sass and comic relief moments, and Dave Annable, who gives an understated and grounded performance amidst the crew.

The hospital set is so realistic that it is a character of its own. It radiates warmth, and feels like home for these characters, despite the innate life-and-death situations that happen there daily. In fact, this show is also inspired by Nagle’s own experiences as she herself grew up in a hospital (while her brother Charlie was in a coma). The most interesting tidbit from the Hollywood Reporter article is that the show is not planning to be all about death, because that’s not what they are interested in: we will follow Charlie and his family’s journey this season. Considering I really liked the hints we’ve had about him and why he’s in a coma, I’m really interested in seeing where they go with it and what they’ve planned. (Ditto with the other characters. There are enough unanswered questions for me to come back.)

Dave Annable and Nolan Sotillo. Courtesy FOX

Dave Annable and Nolan Sotillo. Courtesy FOX

A show like this has an inherent darkness due to the characters’ circumstances, yet it manages to have some really funny callbacks and  enough snarky humor to balance that out, resulting in a really sweet and enjoyable pilot. Nagle does a good job of juggling the different tones without it feeling too jarring, even if there are a few rough edges at this point.  Nonetheless, there are also some corny clichés that are used here to beautiful effect and apt for the characters expressing them.

There is a lot of potential in Red Band, however I am wary to disclose any details so as not to not spoil the episode. If you are on the fence about this show, I’d urge you to give it a shot: it might just appeal to you. It won’t be for everyone, but the pilot is enjoyable enough that I think it could be the feel-good pilot of the season. I personally was hooked from the first act, but the last act is just beautiful — lots of warmth and emotion as well as some hints at the characters’ journeys this season.

I’ll be checking into this wing come September 17. Will you?


Red Band Society premieres on September 17 at 9/8c.

 

Have you watched the pilot, or do you plan to? Comment down below letting us know!

… is a young graduate student that has been way too passionate about television ever since she was little. While she insists she doesn’t have a specific type of show, they all usually have strong but flawed lady characters, some derivation of the stubborn friends-in-love/friends-to-lovers trope, and they all make her yell at her tv a lot. She just wishes she had more hours in the day so she could actually write about this.
You can usually find her on Twitter, Tumblr, and at cassidy at thankyoulizlemon.com

3 Responses to RED BAND SOCIETY Sneak Peek: I’d rather be a comma than a full stop

  1. […] nominate? Who won the veto? Who will be going home? So many questions. I might also watch the Red Band Society pilot again, but that depends on how tired I am by […]

  2. Cassidy says:

    Oh gosh, after watching this again, I have some many quick comments I want to add, but I need to organize my thoughts.

    I know lots of people might hate it but damn if this isn’t an enjoyable pilot/story.

  3. […] though I didn’t write anything last week, I did write a brief, nonspoilery review of the Red Band Society pilot a few weeks back. I had many thoughts after watching the pilot again […]

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