Originally published here
Trends in entertainment are nothing new. A few years back, we had vampires (see: “Twilight,” “True Blood,” “Vampire Diaries”), and then came the influx of shows about music and singing (“Glee,” “Smash,” “Nashville”), so it’s no surprise the summer of 2014 saw a new trend, too.
However, movies and shows about kids dying of cancer isn’t exactly what one would peg as a potential success.
And yet, following in the footsteps of “The Fault in Our Stars” comes “Red Band Society,” Fox’s latest dramedy, featuring a motley crew of teenaged patients living, learning and loving in the fictional Ocean Park Hospital’s pediatric ward.
The name comes from the red bands the patients wear when they’re admitted, souvenirs of sort that serve as a constant reminder that our protagonists will never live truly normal lives.
There’s Charlie, our narrator, a 12-year-old in a coma with an undying love for pizza and a surprisingly bright outlook on life, considering the circumstances.
There’s Kara, the classic, cliché mean girl, a Regina George for the Instagram age, whose enlarged heart has put her on the transplant list. Unfortunately for Kara, she’s also a drug addict whose bad habits have put her at the very end of the list.
There’s Dash (played by Astro, who hasn’t been seen since he was a preteen rapping in front of Simon Cowell on Season 1 of “The X Factor”), a cystic fibrosis stoner, and Leo, a cancer patient who’s been at Ocean Park for quite some time and is the guy everyone seems to know, the cool kid in town.
There’s Emma, a smart aleck with an eating disorder, and then there’s newcomer Jordi – the Augustus Waters of the group if you will, in that he’s just learned he’s suffering from osteosarcoma and has to have his leg amputated.
Despite it being only the first episode, it’s clear that the characters are more than just their clichés, even if the writing does veer into cheesy, gooey, I’m-getting-cavities-from-watching-this territory every so often (ex: “Luck isn’t getting what you want, it’s surviving what you don’t want” is an actual line said by an actual character). Their varied backgrounds and circumstances will make for some very intriguing plot lines as the season continues.
They’re extremely relatable as well – the first time we see Leo and Dash, they’re smoking a joint in a utility closet, and later on, trying to use a fake ID so they can buy alcohol to drink on the roof of the hospital. They’re just normal teenagers living under abnormal circumstances.
A great cast of supporting characters helps, too. Octavia Spencer is the sassy Nurse Jackson, Dave Annable (who, might I add, is still looking mighty fine since his days on “Brothers & Sisters”) is Dr. McAndrew, a young, hip doc and Thomas Ian Nicholas (yup, Kevin from “American Pie”!) is Charlie’s guitar-playing father. (Side note: Of course he’s playing ‘How to Save a Life’ by The Fray. After “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scrubs” is that song like, required to be in all shows about hospitals??)
There’s no doubt that a show about terminally ill children is definitely a risky bet. Striking a balance between depressingly morbid and lighthearted isn’t easy – there’s probably a reason there’s never been anything quite like it on television before.
But at the same time, for all the morbidity laced in this first episode, there are uplifting, inspiring scenes as well. It’s fun to watch the characters just be teenagers and try to break the rules and fall in love and exploit the time they still have left just being young.
And while a lot of scenes and lines are as cheesy as the pizza Charlie loves, others really do pack an emotional punch, like Leo talking about how getting close to people is dangerous because it’s too hard to say goodbye. And I’d be lying if I said seeing Jordi running around the halls on his last legs (no pun intended) of freedom didn’t stir some serious emotion in me.
So while “Red Band Society” has some growing to do as far as script and avoiding clichés, it’s well on its way to being the next big thing.