Hospital drama more Breakfast Club than Grey’s
IF Red Band Society becomes, as some observers are predicting, the sleeper hit of the new TV season, then Griffin Gluck will necessarily become — both literally and figuratively — this fall’s sleeper star. In this new youth-oriented hospital drama, Gluck — a ninth grader with an extensive list of credits that includes Private Practice, The Office, United States of Tara and the big-screen feature Just Go With It — plays a kid in a coma who also happens to be the series’ narrator and most astute commentator. Red Band Society, which premières Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox, shares many of the attributes of past teenfocused TV offerings, such as Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, The OC and Gossip Girl, in that its characters are uniformly attractive, generally moody and somehow manage to be, at the same time, both the cool kids and the outsiders. But in Red Band Society, rather than having money or cars or clothes or entitled attitudes to unite them, the kids at the centre of the story share sickness — they’re all patients at Los Angeles’ fictional Ocean Park Hospital, and they’re all quite seriously ill. Charlie Hutchison (Gluck), who was in some sort of accident, has been in a coma for an extended period; Leo Roth (Charlie Rowe) has been battling cancer through multiple surgeries and hospital stays; Dash Hosney (Astro) suffers from advanced cystic fibrosis; and Emma Chota (Ciara Bravo) is being kept under observation as doctors try to help her get her anorexia under control. As the series opens, another teen is about to join the group — mean-girl cheerleader Kara Souders (Zoe Levin), who collapses in the middle of a tiradefilled practice session, much to the delight of her teammates. Rather than calling 911, they all rush to use their smartphones to snap pictures of the fallen snark queen to post online. Eventually, one student does call for an ambulance, and Kara is rushed to the ER. She arrives at Ocean Park just as no-nonsense Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) is starting her shift. A notso-subtle hint at what she’s like is contained in the words “scary bitch” that have been scrawled on her coffee cup by an obviously traumatized barista somewhere close by. With Jackson and resident hunky doctor Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable) looking on, Kara quickly becomes a disruptive force, while difficult loner Leo is forced by his caregivers to offer support to newly arrived fellow cancer patient Jordi (Nolan Sotillo). There’s a lot of fairly predictable teen behaviour — hormone-directed and party-inclined — all of which is heard and commented on, in voiceover fashion, by comatose Charlie. When Jordi’s diagnosis convinces Leo and Dash that it’s time for a groupbonding event, the entire underage crew (minus Charlie, of course) kicks into secret-party-planning mode. There are a lot of nice performances and moments in the pilot of Red Band Society — particularly the work of Rowe and Sotillo as unlikely allies, and the hard-nosed contribution of Spencer as the nurse who can wither any smug teen’s bravado with a single glance. The problem with this hospital — and it’s a problem that many other hospitals would probably like to have — is that it’s all far too antiseptic. It’s a series about sick kids in a health-care facility, but there’s really little sense of crisis or urgency in what’s going on. It feels more like The Breakfast Club, with these kids serving a slightly more difficult kind of detention, than a story about young people who are literally in a fight for their lives. But if viewers, particularly in Red Band Society’s youthful target demographic, are looking for a feel-good drama in an unconventional setting rather than a gritty and realistic hospital show, then this is a series with oodles of breakout potential, both in its storyline possibilities and its stars’ appeal. A sleeper hit? You can bet Griffin Gluck sure hopes so; these could be the easiest “acting” paycheques he ever earns.
From left, Brian Bradley, Nolan Sotillo, Griffin Gluck and Charlie Rowe; below, Dave Annable pushes Sotillo.