First Impressions

Red Band Society

Aired on: FOX

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                I kept seeing these billboards along the highway featuring what looked like a bunch of kids.  In big red letters the billboard said RED BAND SOCIETY.  Also on the billboard were the words Band Together.  I thought it was an ad for a new band or an upcoming movie, until I saw a promo commercial for Red Band Society on FOX and realized it was a new television series.  I still wasn't really interested in seeing it until I found out that Octavia Spencer was one of the show's stars.  Knowing her body of work (some may remember her from Ugly Betty and movie fans will remember her incredible performance as Minny Jackson in The Help), I knew I had to check out the premiere of Red Band Society when it aired on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 9pm EST.

                Based on the dramatic Spanish series Polseres vermelles, Red Band Society is a dramedy about a group of teenagers living together as patients in Ocean Park Hospital in Los Angeles.  The first episode of Red Band Society is narrated by Charlie (Griffin Gluck) a twelve-year-old patient in a coma.  He introduces us to each of the pediatric ward's most serious cases.  We meet Leo (Charlie Rowe), a sixteen year old cancer patient who relishes living life to the fullest along with his best friend Dash (Astro), a cystic fibrosis patient.  Emma (Ciara Bravo), Leo's on-again off-again girlfriend, suffers from anorexia.  Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) arrives at Ocean Park Hospital alone, hoping against hope that Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable) will take his case and perform life-saving cancer surgery on his leg.  And then there's the newest patient, Kara (Zoe Levin), a stuck-up cheerleader with no real friends who learns that she is suffering from an enlarged heart, a shocking thought to all that know her as they never really believed she had a heart in the first place.

                When Dr. McAndrew decides to take Jordi's case, he decides to room him with Leo.  Not used to having to share, Leo cuts off his protests when he learns why Jordi is here - the same surgery that he has recently undergone.  The two form a friendship and Leo and Dash decide that Jordi's leg surgery is the perfect excuse for a party.  It is at this party that Leo hands one of his several red hospital bands to each of the teens present at the party, bonding them together as members of a brotherhood who will stand together to face whatever comes their way.  And thus, the Red Band Society is born.

                This is the second American television series based on a dramatic Spanish television series that I have seen.  Like Chasing Life, Red Band Society features some pretty heavy dramatic material with some comic relief to help soften the blow.  Each of the teens in the hospital are facing some pretty nasty demons - cancer, a heart condition, an eating disorder, cystic fibrosis in addition to the ups and downs and insecurities that go along with life as a teenager.  Pretty daunting stuff, but we soon learn that it all can be faced with a little help from our friends.

                The kids in this series put on quite a believable performance and definitely deserve props for their acting.  Oh, and Octavia Spencer, she plays Nurse Jackson, a tough as nails nurse with a heart of gold and she still has that quirky style that made her such a favorite in The Help.  I loved her interaction with each of the patients at Ocean Park Hospital's pediatric ward, especially Leo, Dash and Zoe, her "problem children."  Her character provides that mothering touch the kids desperately need while still adding a bit of comic relief for the audience here and there.

                Reminding me of The Bumblebee Flies Anyway in that teenage bond that helps tie critically ill teens together, helping each other overcome their fears about their illness and their insecurities as teenagers, Red Band Society touches the heart of those who are watching.  There are bound to be some tear-jerker moments as this show progresses and I have no doubt that these talented young actors will pull them off beautifully.  Red Band Society is yet another welcome addition to television's fall lineup.


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