Red Band Society is shallow, but has potential

(Television) Plus Fall 2014 Premiers!

The best family TV has something for everybody: slapstick for the kids, a cute teenage boy for the aloof older sister, a tragic love story for Mom, and some funny grown up jokes at which Dad can chuckle knowingly.

Red Band Society has all of those things, with a healthy dose of Spielberg schmaltz.

The new Fox series, for which Steven Spielberg is an executive producer, premiered on Wednesday. It centers around the lives of six young patients in a pediatric ward. Their struggles are as diverse as their skin colors (which is to say: not very), but they do have one specific thing in common: they’re living in a hospital. Full time. This, it seems, is enough to foster deep emotional connections among teenagers who otherwise would never dream of looking each other in the eye.

The show opens with a cheerleader, Kara (Zoe Levin), flying up into the air, her hair splayed behind her, her arms and hands in perfect position. Through a series of quick cuts, we learn that she is quite the bossypants, with bad habits and few friends. Suddenly, she passes out. Each member of her cheer squad whips out their phone. Someone says, “shouldn’t we call 911?”

“Not ’til I post this on Instagram.”

Okay, Red Band Society. You’re hip. Got it.

Red Band Society

Next, the parking lot of the hospital. A nurse (Octavia Spencer) shouts at a driver who almost hits her. The name on her coffee cup? “Scary bitch.” This woman is no-nonsense! And a stereotype!

Cut to two young men, Leo (Charlie Rowe) and Dash (Brian “Astro” Bradley), smoking weed in a supply closet. The narrator notes that Leo has been making bad choices lately. He has cancer, and his prognosis is uncertain.

Other characters include smart girl Emma (Ciara Bravo), who has an eating disorder, and musically talented Jordi (Nolan Sotillo), who came all the way from Mexico to seek help from the best pediatric oncologist in the biz. He didn’t have an appointment, but Dr. McAndrew (Dave Annable) takes him on anyway – without ever talking to his parents or verifying his identity. Nice!

And what about our friendly narrator? His name is Charlie (Griffin Gluck), and he’s talking to us from a coma. He sees and hears all, and can even talk to the other kids when they lose consciousness and end up “in between.”

Such realism!

red-band-society.jpgI had high hopes for Red Band Society. In the weeks leading up to the premiere, it drew potential comparisons to one of my all-time favorites, My So-Called Life. I watched re-runs of MSCL with my mom as a preteen. Maybe this was a little early for storylines about teen sex and drugs, but the show’s exploration of homophobia, abuse and homelessness opened my little eyes to a big part of the world. Angela’s (Claire Danes) honest voiceovers stuck with me for years. It was one of the first TV shows that spoke to me, and made me feel a little less alone in zit-faced, crush-obsessed, self discovery hell.

RBS could be exactly like this, if it toned down the schmaltz. By “tone it down,” I mean lay off the unbelievable conveniences and the forced emotion. These kids’ stories could be compelling and humbling on their own. We don’t need lines like, “you might just change your world,” or “life is full of black holes, and the only person who can pull you out is you.” Let the kids speak for themselves – as kids, like Angela on MSCL did. I want to like these characters and be moved by their stories. Dear writers: calm down!

Hopefully, now that all of the exhaustive exposition is out of the way, we can move on to real storytelling.

Red Band Society airs Wednesdays at 9pm on Fox.

Fall TV: Premiering this week

Fall TVIf you haven’t yet found a new show you love, clear your schedule. This is the week for new network television; forty-one shows will premiere or return in the next ten days.

Monday, September 22

The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Season 8 – 8pm

Gotham (Fox), NEW – 8pm

The Voice (NBC), Season 7 – 8pm

Scorpion (CBS), NEW – 9pm

Sleepy Hollow (Fox), Season 2 – 9pm

Forever (ABC), NEW – 10pm

The Blacklist (NBC), Season 2 – 10pm

Tuesday, September 23

NCIS (CBS), Season 12 – 8pm

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC), Season 2 – 9pm

NCIS: New Orleans (CBS), NEW – 9pm

Person of Interest (CBS), Season 4 – 10pm

Chicago Fire (NBC), Season 3 – 10pm

Wednesday, September 24

The Middle (ABC), Season 6 – 8pm

Survivor (CBS), Season 29 – 8pm

The Goldbergs (ABC), Season 2 – 8:30pm

Modern Family (ABC), Season 6 – 9pm

Law & Order: SVU (NBC), Season 16 – 9pm

Black-ish (ABC), NEW – 9:30pm

Nashville (ABC), Season 3 – 10pm

Chicago P.D. (NBC), Season 2 – 10pm

Thursday, September 25

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Season 11 – 8pm

Bones (Fox), Season 10 – 8pm

Scandal (ABC), Season 4 – 9pm

How to Get Away With Murder (ABC), NEW – 10pm

Parenthood (NBC), Season 6 – 10:30pm

Friday, September 26

Shark Tank (ABC), Season 6 – 8pm

The Amazing Race (CBS), Season 25 – 8pm

Hawaii Five-O (CBS), Season 5 – 9pm

Blue Bloods (CBS), Season 5 – 10pm

Sunday, September 28

Once Upon A Time (ABC), Season 4 – 8pm

The Simpsons (Fox), Season 26 – 8pm

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox), Season 2 – 8:30pm

Family Guy (Fox), Season 13 – 9pm

Resurrection (ABC), Season 2 – 9pm

CSI (CBS), Season 15 – 10pm

Revenge (ABC), Season 4 – 10pm

Monday, September 29

Mom (CBS), Season 2 – 8pm

Castle (ABC), Season 7 – 9pm

NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), Season 6 – 9pm

Tuesday, September 30

Selfie (ABC), NEW – 8pm

Manhattan Love Story (ABC), NEW – 8:30pm



Sarah Hope is a graduate student at Syracuse University, where she focuses on television, entertainment history and classical music. Find her on Twitter @sarahmusing.

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