First Thoughts: Red Band Society

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I was very curious about focusing a show on a pediatric ward in a hospital, where the patients either have cancer or have other prolonging health issues that would force kids to wrestle with reality. The concept is both appealing and challenging: how do you show kids being kids but also show them confront mortality in a meaningful, believable way? I think the pilot has proven that they’re onto something. It’s a pretty smart and heartfelt “teen” show that could maybe fill the void for my otherwise nostalgic yearnings of teen shows past.

The pilot did well to introduce the characters in a fast, fun way and start to reflect on different potential arcs to grow upon. I wasn’t sure if I was sold on the “coma boy” Charlie narrating at first, but the scene where he meets and speaks to Kara sold me on the idea. To have an omniscient person kind of watching over everyone, somehow naturally knowing everything that’s going on works, and it was a great way to really introduce the two characters to each other. Of course Kara would be too self-centered to think about or recognize that someone in a coma can still register what’s going on. The scene had this heavenly feel without being too religiously specific. And it was a great pivotal moment to finally humanize Kara.

Jordi is instantly appealing as that smart, sneaky, suave kid who is friendly and sweet all at once. His newness is also a great segue into the world – especially since Kara was otherwise removed for most of the episode. I like the idea of possible mounting tension among this odd family that’s being constructed in the hospital – immediately, I can sense a potential for conflict with Emma, Jordi, and Leo.

Leo is also a totally appealing leader-rebel type. He is smart, passionate, and really aims to make the most of what he’s got. His moment with Jordi talking about the kind of hurt Jordi is about to feel is the most poignant moment of the episode, and it was really wonderful to see this softening of Nurse Jackson. Even though she’s the sassy nurse, you really do sense that she is a compassionate mother figure for the kids in the hospital.

I will say there’s two things I’m not entirely sold on yet: 1) I didn’t realize that there’s also a school / schedule structure for kids in a terminal pediatric ward? The set up is a little fantastical to me. You’ll put kids with eating disorders next to kids with mysterious long-term diseases and then straight up cancer patients all in one area? I’m not an expert on this, so if anyone knows better and can attest that there’s mild truth to this, cool. But even if it is mildly true, that’s one swanky looking hospital. Maybe too swanky.

2) Ruben as the eccentric billionaire hypochondriac is a wild card to me. I don’t get why else Leo wants to befriend him or why Ruben even cares about being around cancer patient kids. I know that there was also once a case of some crazy billionaire who rented out and lived in a hospital until they died, but it’s still too out there. I feel like he doesn’t quite fit into the world. Does he have any long rooted connection with any of the kids? Why does he care? I’m not yet convinced.

Overall, it’s got a hip look, some hip score (maybe overdone, but that’s just me), and a group of very different but still really hip kids who band together because they have no one else. Like Charlie says at the top, the hospital becomes this magical place where all these kids who would otherwise never speak to each other if they were, say, in the same school all get along and connect in this deep way. I’m looking forward to see more flashbacks of what their lives used to be (loved the flicker of Leo playing soccer and with hair way back when), and I’m also looking forward to seeing more of the parents’ integration. (The reveal that Charlie’s “volunteer” visitor is really his dad was amazing and I hope they continue to dip into this well) I know that’s not possible for all the patients (Jordi) but it only makes me curious how these kids cope with the outside world. Do they have to take care of and reassure their parents? What will Kara say to her parents, who, in finding out about her illness, are learning about all her vices (which are essentially biting her in the ass)? What about Leo and Dash? I will definitely tune in next week and hope to learn more.

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