Fox has one break-out hit this fall, but it’s not Batman prequel “Gotham.”
It’s a show about a group of teens living in a swanky hospital called “Red Band Society” (“RBS”) from executive producer Steven Spielberg and starring Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”).
Over the weekend, we watched the season premiere episodes of Fox’s new fall lineup and the dramedy had the audience at our screening laughing, and, I’d be surprised if it didn’t leave everyone crying (or at least tearing up) near its end.
A series about sick children is a tough sell. Audiences could be deterred from what may sound like sensitive subject matter.
But from the moment Spencer enters on screen walking to her job at Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital with a coffee cup labelled with the name “Scary Bitch,” you know you’re in for a ride.
Spencer plays Nurse Jackson who keeps the kids and her co-workers in line and doesn’t take bull from anyone. Someone wants her to hold an elevator because they’re running late? Take the stairs. A co-worker tries to hand her some friendship muffins as a bribe to leave work early? Not happening. Muffins, meet the trash. However, underneath her hard exterior, you see glimpses of a maternal mama hen.
The actress is not in the pilot episode much, but every time she’s on screen she’s a scene stealer you want to see more.
It’s not just her performance that’s great. What happens in the first few minutes of the show solidifies that it’s a game changer.
[Minor spoilers ahead]
The show opens with narration from a young boy as he introduces each character one by one from a young girl with an eating disorder and an unpopular cheerleader with an enlarged heart to a boy with one leg who has been fighting cancer.
It’s a typical story layout until several minutes into the pilot you learn the boy narrating is actually in a coma! When you first hear that you may be quick to do an eyeroll, but it’s not done cheesily and it’s not done for shock value — something that has probably been in Fox’s vocabulary since the network began in 1986 (“Married with Children,” “Family Guy”).
This is one of those sensitive items that could go over well or poorly, but the dramedy does it right, suggesting the character can hear everything going on in the show. Again, if you’re ready to do an eyeroll, suspend all disbelief for a moment.
[End of spoilers]
Never do you feel like any of these characters’ illnesses is exploited for TV ratings. Instead, the main focus of the show is these kids and the bond they form — a “red band society” dictated by the red hospital bands given out during their surgeries.
Aside from Charlie Rowe (“The Golden Compass“), Griffin Gluck (“Private Practice“), and Nickelodeon star Ciara Bravo, you may not recognise any of the young talent, but the chemistry between the actors is great. Leo (Rowe) and Dash (Brian Bradley) are a two man band of mischief while the more reserved Emma (Bravo) is a whose quick tongue can hold her own among the boys. Then there’s fiery cheerleader Kara (Zoe Levin) who you can tell may be an instigator among the group.
The show itself balances jokes and light, silly moments with heavy ones like when two boys discuss what it’s like to lose a leg to cancer.
“Red Band Society” also appears to borrow a few pages from ABC’s hit medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” which is going into its 11th season this fall. Spencer’s Jackson character reminds us of feisty general surgeon Miranda Bailey. There’s also a doctor named McAndrew. We’re still debating whether or not this is a direct nod (jab?) at McSteamy and McDreamy — nicknames for two “Grey’s Anatomy” doctors.
From the premiere episode, you can already imagine where the show will go for the rest of the season and beyond. You’re introduced to potential love interests, personal issues that may complicate friendships, and drugs and alcohol come into play.
Of course, there’s also each character’s health to consider.
The only complaint so far is that the hospital setting doesn’t appear realistic at all as the kids seem to have no real supervision. Nurse Jackson just shows up when needed. The kids are able to wander around through the halls, smoke weed (and get caught with no real repercussions), find time to make graffiti in between classes taught in the hospital, and even manage to escape the confines of their swanky solitary (Where’s the security in this place?) to take a joyride to a liquor store and persuade a man to sell alcohol to minors (You can’t say no to a teen with one leg).
We also wondered where the majority of the children’s parents were in the opening episode. These kids all live in this hospital that feels more like a hotel than a medical facility with life-threatening illnesses and their parents are no where to be found.
Unlike other shows we watched so far, it wasn’t nagging about one person’s imperfections or trying to be the next “True Detective” miniseries. Nor was it aiming for cheap laughs with a laugh soundtrack.
“Red Band Society” came across as a real, personal genuine drama that can be enjoyed together by a family.
Fox was in need of a hit to take over after “Glee” ends its six-season run next year. It has definitely found it.
The series premieres on Fox September 17 at 9 p.m. Watch a trailer for the show below.
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