At the start of the school year, I decided I watched too many TV shows and needed to scale down before the shows got in the way of my studying. I had missed so many episodes that it was probably best to narrow down the list of shows I watched and only tune into the ones I liked the most.
That goal was short lived. I was watching a show on demand when I saw a commercial for a new show called Red Band Society on Fox. It premiered on Wednesday at 9/8 Central and since Wednesdays were typically slower days for me, I decided that one hour out of my day wouldn’t be too catastrophic.
Beyond the “too many TV shows” thing looming over my head, I was also a bit skeptical of Red Band Society. It centers around six kids who live in a hospital. And since the recent release of the movie, The Fault in Our Stars, stories about sick children seem to be quite trendy.
I watched it anyway because it seemed a little different from The Fault in Our Stars and it also seemed different from most typical hospital dramas, which I tend to stay away from. After laughing and almost crying for an hour, I’d say that I liked it a lot. It’s so much more than a show about sick kids. Similarly to The Fault in Our Stars it balances sad realities with uplifting moments, and all of the characters seem so strong and accepting of each other.
*(While I hate revealing spoilers, I feel like it will help support my opinions better if I talk about the events that happened in the Pilot episode. That being said, if you did not watch the episode and plan on doing so, I would stop reading here and save this for later.)
The episode begins with a narrator who sounds like a young boy but who has not been introduced formally yet, introducing all of the other characters in the show first. As he introduces each character, giving the viewers a brief synopsis of who they are and why they’re there, the characters’ names flash on the screen with a little red band serving as the background. That seems to be helpful for those viewers who don’t pay attention or claim they can’t remember names of characters.
The narrator is one of the last characters introduced and it is done so for a very good reason. The narrator is a ten year old boy named Charlie and for a while I didn’t think Charlie was going to be part of the story. When he introduced all of the kids in the hospital, he described so many minute details about him, details that a narrator actually involved in the story typically would not know. Charlie could not possibly be in the show because he would have had to have been present at every event that he described and that did not seem possible.
But it is possible for Charlie. Charlie is narrating the entire show from his hospital bed, where he lays in a coma. That’s correct, the narrator is a ten year old boy in a coma. I liked this angle a lot. Not only does it offer a very interesting angle in terms of plot, it also makes it very easy for the writers to show many different events that go on in the hospital. Charlie is that omnipresent narrator every writer wishes they can fit into their plot lines.
As for the other characters, I was a little disappointed. On the surface, the writers covered every stereotype possible. Kara, the obnoxious blonde cheerleader; Emma, the quiet nerdy bookworm; Jordi, the teen charmer; Dash, the one who always seems to get in trouble; and Leo, the slightly emo kid who’s unrealistically intelligent and profound. But what I do tend to like about stereotypical characters (because unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to avoid them) is that it gives the writers a foundation to gradually scratch away these stereotypes and surprise the viewers with what is actually underneath.
I’ve never been to a hospital like this where children live there full time and even go to school there so I wouldn’t know what they look like, but I don’t really think they look like the way they were pictured in the show. In the show, Leo’s room looks better than most teenagers’ rooms. It’s a complete man cave. The windows by his door have the words “The Swamp” painted in black and yellow paint and there are posters and guitars meticulously placed around the room. I suppose Leo just wants to feel at home while he’s in the hospital (which is completely understandable), but the room looks too much like a set of a TV show and not an actual teenager’s room.
What I do like is the seemingly inseparable bond between these kids even after only one episode of the show. They all come from different walks of life. Charlie is younger than the rest of them, at age ten (the others look like either middle schoolers or high schoolers) and even though he is in a coma, the other characters treat him like an honorable member of their little band of misfits. Charlie mentions in the show that these are people who would have never been together had they been in normal settings and that’s completely true. Kara is the typical Queen Bee and she would never hang out with a mousey girl like Emma or even a charming guy like Leo who seems to have everyone he comes across in the palm of his hand. Dash is a total player and he seems to march to the beat of his own drum, even in a hospital with people monitoring his every move. He’s that character who doesn’t care about rules and doesn’t care about what others think. Jordi is a little tough to figure out. We know that he lives with family in Mexico because his dad is out of the picture and his mom is dead so he probably has a tough time learning to fit in. On the other hand, he seems like if he was in a normal high school setting that he would be the kind of guy who was popular without even trying because he’s just so charismatic.
There are a wide variety of illnesses among the characters. Kara has an enlarged heart (which is ironic because her character seems completely heartless), Charlie is in a coma, Dash has cystic fibrosis, Emma is struggling with an eating disorder and Jordi and Leo both have osteosarcoma. Jordi is there because he needs his right leg amputated, whereas Leo has already had his leg amputated and is deep within the stages of chemo. Before Jordi, Leo is one of the only people in the hospital without a roommate. It’s evident that while he seems to be popular and have friends, he’s also afraid to get close to people. This is seen when Charlie explains that he and Emma got really close but then it scared the two of them so much that now they’re distant and make it their goal to make each other miserable. It’s also seen when one of the nurses, Nurse Jackson, tells him he’s going to have a roommate and he immediately objects. He’s afraid of getting close to anyone because he’s in a hospital and in hospitals people die. He wants to minimize the blows.
However, Jordi still rooms with Leo and they even end up having a heart-to-heart. Jordi asks Leo if the surgery hurts and after refusing to tell him at first, Leo tells him that it will hurt at first, but not in the way you think it will hurt. The physical pain will go away but what hurts is how it puts a strain on you mentally. I can tell that Leo and Jordi’s relationship is going to end up being a key factor in the series and I’m excited to see it develop in the future.
Lastly, one of the most powerful scenes in the episode, is when the patients plan a party up on the roof to say goodbye to Jordi’s leg. Leo gives a speech and makes a big deal about giving away all the red bands he got from surgeries. He used to keep them all because he was afraid to take them off, but now he’s given them all away. All of the bands that the kids wear signify their bond. It shows the unlikeliness of their friendship and how even though it’s tough luck meeting in a hospital the way they did, there is still good that comes out of it.
Red Band Society was not what I was expecting. It disappointed it some areas, but completely made up for it elsewhere. It took a seemingly bleak plot line and turned it into something that can make you laugh, smile, cry and overall inspire you. The next episode airs on Wednesday, September 24th at 9/8 Central on Fox. I’m looking forward to it, and only hope it will continue to impress me as much as the Pilot did.