Red Band Society, one of the fall's most anticipated shows, is airing its second episode tonight. Set on a children’s ward, or “division of adolescent medicine,” in a swanky Los Angeles hospital, the series follows the lives of the teenage patients who live there. The title references the common practice of color-coding patients’ hospital bracelets based on their status: ICU, ER, OR. With their bracelets, these teens form a pact to live every day to the fullest.
The show premiered last Wednesday, September 17, but not a whole lot of people tuned in. Luckily, I did and can share with you why Red Band Society is one new show to watch. Here are three reasons you should check it out:
It's a new spin on an old tale
You might read the two-line synopsis and think, “This is just like The Fault in Our Stars (or My Sister’s Keeper or A Walk to Remember).” But the creators set out to tackle the “sick kids” archetype from a new angle. Yes, these teens are really sick—stricken with cystic fibrosis, heart defects, two boys with cancer have a leg amputated, and a girl suffers from anorexia—but that's not the only thing they're dealing with. The health issues takes a backseat to typical adolescent problems—mainly drinking, dating, and delinquency.
The show combines the teenage angst of Dawson’s Creek with the medical jargon of ER. Or, as the posters advertised, “Glee in a hospital!” (minus the musical numbers). You'll identify with or at least recognize some of the characters: There’s the mean-girl cheerleader, Kara; the introspective mysterious foreigner, Jordi; the quirky girl who wears a trilby hat, Emma; and the leader, Leo, who is a teen heartthrob minus the hair (a side effect of chemotherapy). They're people we know—or used to know—just with serious diseases.
There are watercooler-worthy health topics
The 12-year-old narrator, Charlie, is in a coma but claims—via voiceover—that he can still hear everything around him. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support the theory that coma patients can sense and hear things while unconscious, but any scientific research is inconclusive. Researchers suggest the process of unconscious hearing is indicative of "locked-in syndrome," or a minimally conscious state, rather than a true coma.
Where are their parents? We all assume mothers or fathers would try to be with their hospitalized children as much as possible, but these teens are chronically ill. Their parents probably have to work to maintain health insurance; they can’t afford to be by these kids’ bedside all day.
Lingering question: Do hospitals really offer jello or is that only on TV?
It has characters you'll care about
Executive producer Rina Mimoun assures viewers, who worry the context is too depressing, that while the show is set in a hospital, it’s actually “about life.” There will be critics who will say that the show's premise is too corny or schmaltzy for intelligent viewers. But sometimes we deserve a bit of sentimentality from our television shows. And, Red Band Society is packed with sentiment. As Charlie explains, “Everyone thinks that when you go to the hospital, life stops. But it’s the opposite. Life starts.”
In the pilot, Jordi enters the hospital and petitions the resident “hot” doctor, Dave Annable, to cut off his tumorous leg. From that point on, we follow Jordi’s last day with two legs, which ends with a rowdy party in the leg’s honor. The celebration contrasts with the medical procedure the following day, making viewers experience the loss of Jordi’s leg more completely.
The script is littered with wisdom that begs the audience to examine their own healthy lives. Lines like “It’s weird how people get hung up on stuff that doesn’t really matter, until something that matters really happens,” are more impactful coming from an unconscious boy surrounded by sick kids.
At a time when most hospital shows revolve around the life-or-death procedures and diagnoses, Red Band Society is about the patients and provides much-needed emotional catharsis to its audience.