September 25, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Red Band Society”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on RED BAND SOCIETY:  In a Los Angeles hospital, a half-dozen adolescents struggle with their health and with the general problems of being teenagers.  Kara (Zoe Levin) is a mean girl cheerleader who needs a heart transplant; Emma (Ciara Bravo) a studious, compassionate anorexic; Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) and Leo (Charlie Rowe) each have cancer; and Dash (Astro) suffers from cystic fibrosis.  They’re watched over by Nurses Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Dobler (Rebecca Rittenhouse), Dr. McAndrew (Dave Annable)–and by Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who’s in a coma but aware of everything around him, and who appears to the patients when they’re in the netherworld of anesthesia.

Episode 2:  Red Band Society is only two hours old, but already it feels like there’s nothing to it but affectation.  Despite the serious issues facing the protagonists, there’s no feeling of reality to the show at all; the characters appear to be rosy with good health, except when the script requires them to fall down or get tired.  (A medical-themed show is truly in trouble when ABCFamily’s Chasing Life starts to look gritty by comparison.)  The gimmick of having comatose Charlie provide heavyhanded narration and mystical appearances is cloying and downright silly.

The main event of the pilot was Jordi’s arrival at the hospital, and in the second episode, written by US series creator Margaret Nagle (this is yet another network series based on a foreign format) and directed by Jason Ensler, Jordi’s crisis again takes center stage, as he undergoes surgery at the hands of Dr. McAndrew (who appears to be the hospital’s only doctor) supposedly to have his leg removed, but his cancer is discovered to have already spread throughout his soft tissue.  The discovery that Jordi has kept his leg puts Leo, himself an amputee, into a tailspin that involves his going across the street with Dash to a conveniently located fraternity house and almost having sex with a girl until he freaks out at the thought that she’d see his prosthetic leg.  Unable to stand up, he’s rescued by sweet Nurse Brittany, who for her efforts gets a “Nice job” from Nurse Jackson, making her day.  The idea of Leo resenting his fellow patient retaining his leg made emotional sense, and yet everything about the situation as it played out felt synthetic.

The girls were no better off.  We met Kara’s “power lesbian” mother and stepmother, who with their one-note awfulness (the number of mentions of “Ellen” and “Portia” could have been a drinking game) that segued into sentimentality at the end of the hour made it seem like they’d escaped from an unproduced script for The New Normal.  Sensitive Emma (who doesn’t seem to belong in the same ward with transplant and cancer patients, but whatever) levelheadedly talked Kara into being slightly less mean-spirited, but both characters appeared to be much more like an adult’s idea of teenagers than anything like the real thing.  Dash, meanwhile, remained by far the show’s vaguest character, no more than a sidekick for Leo.  As marvelous an actress as Spencer is, and as strong as Annable was on Brothers and Sisters, they’re defeated by the material they’ve been given so far, and the young performers are even less able to make it work.

Red Band Society‘s heart is in the right place, but its head is several towns away.  Its makers’ only knowledge of the world seems to come from other movies and TV dramas.  Despite its realistic milieu and the very serious illnesses it depicts, it feels more contrived than The Hunger Games as a chronicle of actual contemporary life.

Red Band didn’t have much of a start in the ratings with its “preview” showing last week–although the way FOX’s schedule has been going, it wasn’t necessarily kindling either.  There will no doubt be an audience for its sentimental constructs.  But a series that feels like a weekly dose of the Hallmark Hall of Fame is more than many of us will be able to bear.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Far Too Glossy For Its Own Good

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."