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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

PILOT REVIEW: Red Band Society


Starring: Octavia Spencer, Dave Annable, Astro, Ciara Bravo, Griffin Gluck, Zoe Levin, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Charlie Rowe, Nolan Sotillo

Based on "Polseres Vermelles" by Albert Espinosa, Developed by Margaret Nagle
Written by Margaret Nagle, Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

THE PREMISE: Red Band Society is set in the pediatric ward of a Los Angeles hospital and centers on the lives of some of its patients as well as nurses Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Brittany (Rebecca Rittenhouse) and Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable). The residents in the hospital are an interesting mix of teenagers: mean cheerleader Kara (Zoe Levin), mischievous leader and cancer patient Leo (Charlie Rowe), goody girl with an eating disorder Emma (Ciara Bravo), and newcomer Jordi (Nolan Sotillo). The narration is from a boy currently in a coma, Charlie (Griffin Gluck).

THE GOOD: There are a lot of things I like about this warm teen drama and it starts with Octavia Spencer. When an Academy Award winner takes a role in a TV show, I expect good things and Spencer didn't disappoint. Her character is the perfect mix of no-nonsense and caring and she brings a real quietly strong presence to a show mostly filled with teenagers. However, those teenagers are pretty impressive. There's not one bad one in the bunch. They all are realistic and interesting, even if some of them are typical "types" (Kara the cheerleader comes to mind, but she showed some depth as the pilot episode went on). This show has all the cliches of a teen drama: struggles with rebellion, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. However, everything feels so fresh thanks to the setting. What might seem like ordinary teen struggles feel like life or death situations because, in a hospital, they can be.

THE BAD: I wish the show had started with Octavia Spencer because the very first scene with Kara and the cheerleaders didn't really get it off to the great start. It didn't capture the tone, setting, or main character. It was an odd way to start (a cheerleader is smoking in a school gym during practice? Really?) and it seems like they were trying too hard to start with a bang. Whereas the show was beyond strong enough to start with the second scene and Spencer arriving at the hospital. I get what they were doing with the "coma scene" but it didn't really work for me. It seemed to take the show out of reality too far. I think the same effect on the story could have happened without the actual dream sequence.

BOTTOM LINE: I'm really rooting for Red Band Society to succeed even if the odds are stacked against it in a tough timeslot and a tough sell. I don't want to overstate things because it's not perfect, but I think this could become the next great character drama in the Friday Night Lights and Parenthood way because the characters and dynamics between them are so intriguing. I just hope it gets the chance to become that show and FOX and/or the show don't try to make it Glee in a hospital as some of the ads have tried to do.

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