When it comes to television shows and movies, I typically know a little something about it -- usually the premise or the stars, or just about everything (what storylines I can expect; who plays what character and what they're all about, etc.). But when it came to "Red Band Society" I knew nothing.
"Red Band Society" centres on a group of teens who are also patients at Ocean Park Hospital, and the adults who care for them. Yep, never would have guessed that that's what it was about based on the title, but maybe that was good thing because I went in with no expectations. That's typical of everything, I suppose, having little-to-no expectations about something and then it surpassing anything you could have imagined.
I'm not saying "Red Band Society" is perfect, but it's pretty darn close and, what's best, it's unlike anything on TV right now. Sure, it's a little "Fault in our Stars"-y (the book and movie, both of which I enjoyed very much) and made me wonder if Fox was like, "Hey, kids with cancer are so hot right now." But "Red Band Society" is actually based on the Spanish drama, "Polseres vermelles," and is produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television and developed by Margaret Nagle ("Boardwalk Empire"), so it's not like it's a copycat of John Green's bestseller. But there will be comparisons.
Like how mature the characters seem. When watching "TFIOS," the person I was with constantly bemoaned that teens don't talk like that, but since I had read the book, it didn't faze me. They act and speak like they're older than they are because they're dealing with things no kid should have to deal with, be it cancer, cystic fibrosis, an eating disorder, a heart condition or being stuck in a coma. Of course it's going to age a person. But the difference with "TFIOS" and "Red Band Society" is that while the characters in both are all battling for survival in one way or another, the "RBS" kids -- Charlie (Griffin Gluck, "Back in the Game"); Jordi (Nolan Sotillo, "Prom"); Leo (Charlie Rowe, "Neverland"); Dash (Astro, "Earth to Echo"); Emma (Ciara Bravo, "Big Time Rush") and Kara (Zoe Levin, "The Way, Way Back"), all of whom can act, it should be pointed out -- may be dealing with adult issues but they still behave and talk like teenagers. They leave the grown-up stuff to, well, the grown-ups.
Octavia Spencer plays Nurse Jackson, who runs the pediatric wing and is as awesomely no-nonsense as they get. There's also Nurse Brittany (Rebecca Rittenhouse), who's the complete opposite, as green and gullible as can be, and then there's Dr. McAndrew (Dave Annable), a top surgeon who oversees much of their treatment. Wilson Cruz and Griffin Dunne are billed as guest stars but here's hoping they stick around for a while, because they add just a little something extra to an already exceptional show.
Another great thing about the pilot is that we get to know all the characters without them being shoved down our throats. We already know a little bit about each of them and while it is a fairly sizable cast, you'll still remember their names by the end, a challenge many new shows face -- which is a testament to both the acting and the writing on "RBS."
It sounds like this could be Debbie Downer's favourite show, but it's equal parts drama and comedy, though the tone of the funny is more edgy than slapsticky. There's no depressing, sombre music playing in the background or hysterical parents chewing the scenery. It's got the snark and heart of "The Breakfast Club" and the early years of "Glee."
The only problem with "Red Band Society," from what I can see, is a biggie. Its competition is fierce and I'm not sure if viewers will tune out of "Modern Family," "Criminal Minds," "SVU" and "The 100" in favour what people will perceive as a show about sick kids. But there's so much more to "RBS." It will charm you, irk you and make you laugh. But most of all, it will also move you, it'll sometimes make you feel good, and undoubtedly make you cry. "Red Band Society" ticks all the boxes. It's wonderful and fresh and inspiring. Give this newbie a try; you won't regret it.
"Red Band Society" premieres Wednesday, September 17 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.