Review: Red Band Society

Red Band Society title card (screenshot via Fox Now)

Red Band Society title card (screenshot via Fox Now)

B-

When there's a medical emergency these days apparently the in-thing is to put it on Instagram (screenshot via Fox Now)

When there’s a medical emergency these days apparently the in-thing is to put it on Instagram (screenshot via Fox Now)

Red Band Society was one of the new fall shows I was dreading to see, however, it also happened to be the first I watched out of the new crop as Fox released it online a few weeks early. I was really wary of the concept of a series where I would see sick kids week after week fighting a debilitating illness. It seemed as if Red Band Society would be depressing, and not only that, but a cheap way to play with our emotions.

When I made it a few minutes into the show, it was pretty much exactly what I expected: Something a lot like Fox’s other teen series Glee, or as much as it could be considering Red Band Society follows sick kids in a hospital instead of a Glee club. 

Fox has graciously watered down the the characters to two to four words because we're too stupid to understand people are deeper than that (screenshot via Fox.com)

Fox has graciously watered down the the characters to two to four words because we’re too stupid to understand people are deeper than that (screenshot via Fox.com)

Regardless of their health issues, the kids on Red Band Society came across as rather generic and one-dimensional (like the kids on Glee) for much of the first part of the debut episode. You have the bitchy cheerleader, the music lover, the geeky kids, the quiet kids—the only main difference here is they have a completely life-altering medical condition and most of them don’t singyet.

“Scary Bitch” Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and “hot doc” Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable) should seem very familiar (screenshot via Fox Now)

“Scary Bitch” Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and “hot doc” Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable) should seem very familiar (screenshot via Fox Now)

Some of the characters even sing. This guy is singing ”How To Save A Life” to Charlie, the show's narrator who is in a coma (screenshot via Fox Now)

Some of the characters even sing. This guy is singing ”How To Save A Life” to Charlie, the show’s narrator who is also  in a coma (screenshot via Fox Now)

If that wasn’t enough, we also get Sue Sylvester and Mr. Schue knock-offs courtesy of Octavia Spencer’s Nurse Jackson (a.k.a. Scary Bitch) and Dave Annable’s Dr. Jack McAndrew, respectively. A few of the characters even sing, but it’s definitely not as pronounced as it is on Glee. I doubt you’re going to want to rush out to download a copy of the cover of “How To Save A Life” featured on the show.

There’s no beating around the bush though—introducing characters with major health issues is a downer for virtually any series and it’s particularly so when those characters are kids. It may not be as bad as you might anticipate, but it’s a downer nonetheless.
Red Band Society is a bit odd, as it appears Fox decided to clone Glee, mix in a bit of House, let it sit and call it a day. It’s an especially strange decision when you consider Glee completely collapsed in the ratings and House is becoming a distant memory.

I’d say the folks at Fox must be smarter than me and they’ve gotta know something that I don’t, but The Mindy Project is still on the air, so I don’t think anyone could call the people over at Fox geniuses.

Aw, you guys did all that for a boy in a coma? (screenshot via Fox Now)

Aww, you guys did all that for a boy in a coma? (screenshot via Fox Now)

Despite that, as the episode goes on Red Band Society does feel as if it was becoming its own. It was far more successful at tugging at my heartstrings than I initially expected. Actually, now that I give it some thought, it would be hard to screw that up even if the characters were one-dimensional and felt done before. I mean, they’re sick kids for goodness sake.

It’s also during the second half of the episode where they start to flesh out those characters and you really get a chance to see the kids bonding with one another.

That Coldplay sequence was a bit much (screenshot via Fox Now)

That Coldplay sequence was a bit much (screenshot via Fox Now)

Granted, Red Band Society is far from perfect. It ends with one of the main characters running around the hospital to Coldplay, flashing his red band to another member of “the society,” delivering a red band to a member who lost hers, then running back to a hospital bed to await surgery. Needless to say, whatever that was, it was a bit cheesy.

By the end of the show, it turned out Red Band Society wasn’t as much of a downer as I thought it would be—it’s heartwarming. I probably should’ve known better. Steven Spielberg, Fox and the rest of the Red Band Society crew wouldn’t have fallen into the trap of making a show about sick kids in a hospital overly depressing.

Can this show save Fox? (screenshot via Fox Now)

Can this show save Fox? (screenshot via Fox Now)

Even with that as it is, would viewers even bother to give it a chance to realize it isn’t quite that much of a downer? Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how much Red Band Society the average person could take during a single TV season. Probably not much. Will this series bring in 30 million every week in the US or three million this side of the border? Doubt it (especially considering none of the major Canadian networks has it on their schedules). Will it even get popular enough to warrant a satire in Mad Magazine called “Red Bland Society”? Maybe not even that.

I still think it will connect with some people and will have a following though. Given the state of Fox as of late, that might be good enough for them and if enough fans stick around, a season two should be a given, especially considering things like the low rated but critically acclaimed Brooklyn Nine-Nine made it to a second season.

Episode Reviewed: Pilot
Red Band Society debuts Wednesday, September 17th on Fox

(Featured Image: Screenshot via Fox Now)

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