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Life, death and taxing teens in Fox's Red Band Society hospital drama


All smiles, but not often: Patients & caregivers of Red Band Society.
Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 17th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Octavia Spencer, Griffin Gluck, Charlie Rowe, Nolan Sotillo, Astro, Ciara Bravo, Zoe Levin, Dave Annable, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Wilson Cruz
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Margaret Nagle, Rina Mimoun, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Sergio Aguero

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The 12-year-old narrator remains in a coma, which alone makes Fox’s new Red Band Society a unique departure from the mushrooming narrative norm.

Then there’s the welcome casting of Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) in the lead role of Nurse Jackson. She’s saucy and authoritarian, of course, with a coffee cup that says, “Scary Bitch.” She’s also dedicated, without overtly showing it, to the mostly teenage patients of Los Angeles’ Ocean Park Hospital. Whether new or somewhat entrenched, they’re afflicted with illnesses ranging from cancer to heart failure to an eating disorder.

Narrator Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who weighs in early and often, goes undiagnosed in Wednesday’s premiere episode. For now he’s simply flat on his back in bed, making it clear that he doesn’t blame his dad for however he got this way.

Comparisons to The Breakfast Club have been made and are welcomed by the show’s executive producers. One of them, Margaret Nagle, had a brother who was in a coma “for a very, very long time,” she said during an interview session at the summer Television Critics Association “press tour.” He could hear what others were saying, she says. And so can Charlie.

The title Red Band Society comes from the wrist-wraps distributed by Leo Roth (Charlie Rowe), who’s lost both his hair and part of a leg to cancer. Incoming patient Jordi Palacios (Nolan Sotillo) faces the same operation. So they bond, with Leo telling Jordi, “They can never cut into your soul.” Yes, things can get a bit cloying and pretentious. But there are affecting moments as well, and plenty of possibilities for new patients and story lines.

Another first-timer at the hospital is Kara Souders (Zoe Levin), a mean girl cheerleader who collapses at practice to the merriment of just about everyone else in attendance. She winds up talking smack to “Coma Boy” Charlie, but begins to get religion after passing out and then communicating with him in a sort of netherworld.

The other principal patients, in the early going at least, are Emma Chota (Ciara Bravo) and Dash Hosney (Astro from The X Factor). She has an aversion to food and he has cystic fibrosis. Both are also part of Leo’s orbit.

Spencer’s Nurse Jackson is the necessary adult supervisor/modulator of all this teenage angst. Other staffers include Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable), the hunky pediatric surgery whiz, and naive new nurse Brittany Dobler (Rebecca Rittenhouse). Wilson Cruz, little seen in the opening hour, was a late addition to the series as openly gay nurse Kenji Gomez-Rejon.

For starters at least, lRed Band Society has enough lightness of being and appealing characters to counterbalance its overall sobering premise. There’s no RX for smash hit here. But the prospects for survival perhaps approach 50-50.

GRADE: B-minus

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