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‘Red Band Society’: A Misdiagnosis of Hospital Life

| Thursday, September 25, 2014

red-band-society-webSusan Zhu | The Observer
As much as I would love to say that “Red Band Society” is this season’s must-watch show, I cannot recommend it. Upon seeing the previews for the show, I was excited to see the premiere last week but was disappointed with what I saw. I wanted to see the second episode before I allowed myself to judge the series, and I can now confidently put it on my skip list.

The show’s pilot episode introduced several characters, each representing a common stereotype of teens. There’s the snotty cheerleader, the bad boy, the annoyingly smart girl, the funny black friend and the new kid. The characters really aren’t developed more than that, aside from the fact that they are each diagnosed with a serious medical condition. The heartless cheerleader, Kara, ironically, has an enlarged heart. Emma, the nerdy girl, struggles with anorexia, while the black friend, Dash, has cystic fibrosis. The bad boy Leo and the new kid Jordi both have potentially terminal cancer, and the narrator Charlie is a young boy in a coma. These conditions do add to the characters’ identities, but I worry that the show will fail to go beyond developing their characters within the scope of their respective conditions. However, while the character development is lacking, the writers do a good job of bringing some humor into the show. Leo, who is missing a leg due to osteosarcoma, plays golf using his prosthetic leg as a club. The cheerleader Kara’s parents are introduced as a worried heterosexual couple in the pilot, but in the second episode they are a lesbian power couple. When her mother discovers that Kara needs a heart transplant, she tries to cajole a male nurse to move Kara to the top of the transplant list. The nurse responds that the hospital doesn’t give in to bribery, to which the mother responds, “Listen girlfriend, we didn’t become Out magazine’s 7th most powerful lesbian couple in Southern California by working our way up a freaking list. Now tell me who I have to call to get a quality ticker around here.” Humor aside, the show glorifies serious illness. These kids are supposedly very ill, but they are all beautiful and healthy looking, not to mention having a grand old time.

Now for the biggest issue I have with this show: it’s completely unrealistic. I normally don’t have a problem with shows being impractical; in fact that’s usually what makes a show enjoyable. However, because the show is taking place in a pediatric ward of a hospital and addresses very serious medical conditions, the writers need to be careful. This is tough territory to navigate, but it’s definitely doable, as seen in “The Fault In Our Stars.” Hopefully the show can strike a balance between lighthearted fun and serious issues, but until then I’ll discuss the ridiculousness of the show’s setting. First of all, the hospital looks nothing like a typical hospital. It is beautifully designed, with lots of windows and spacious, decorated rooms that look like something out of “House Beautiful” magazine. Next, there is a startling lack of parental units in the hospital. These kids have serious diagnoses, and none of them seem to have a family that is there to support them. Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) acts as a tough-loving mother to the teens, but even so there is a noticeable lack of supervision and support. The patients walk in and out of the hospital like it’s no big deal, taking joy rides in doctors’ cars and attending frat parties in the middle of the day. The narrator, Charlie, says “The only thing harder than breaking out of a hospital is breaking back in.” Yet, once the teens return to the hospital ,they are only given a slap on the wrist and then it’s off to physical therapy! The setting reminded me more of “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” than a pediatric ward of a hospital.

I’m sad to say that “Red Band Society” does not live up to the hype, but don’t take my word for it — it’s worth checking out at least the first episode if you’ve got some free time.

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  • bandl8y

    You left out the part where the kid with no family checks into the hospital and is immediately scheduled for surgery to remove a limb without even an x-ray! No parents? No problem!

  • Sharee Godinez

    Yeah….I’m watching it now. I want to like this show, but this seems more like a show about a boarding school. I expected it to have some hi-jinx but this is sooooo unrealistic.

  • Natasha

    we do not know that an x-ray was or wasn’t done, just because they did not show it, doesn’t mean they didn’t do it. They obviously did blood tests (which is something you WOULD do to help diagnosis the cancer) since upon review of the labs they discovered it had spread…

    I honestly don’t know what everyone’s problem is with this show…
    I am a nursing student & I think it is a great show so far… It is not meant to be ER or Grey’s Anatomy. Unlike those shows, which focus on the Dr.’s & nurses at the hospitals, this show is more about the struggles of the patients who have to live & function in a hospital while battling diseases. Obviously it would not be that easy to just walk out of a hospital, but it IS a TV show, stop looking for it to be a reality show. That was meant to show how much the kids CRAVE to just be normal & be like everyone else.

    I love the way this show focuses on the kids and what they are having to go through. Give the show a chance before you shun it after only 2 episodes. I’m sure they will continue to build a back story for each kid (including where their parents are) as it goes along…

  • miss.amanda

    I kinda worry about the glamorization of the character Emma. She’s this quirky girl that has anorexia, but she looks healthy and all the guys, both main male characters, fall in love with her. It should be reminded that young people watching this show might think hey she’s looks pretty and everyone likes her so anorexia isn’t so bad. How about the guys comment on how badly she looks and that she really needs to eat. Or the power lesbian couple doesn’t tell their daughter she should be like the anorexic girl. The problem is that no one wants to see sick kids, but there’s too much tv makeup that I feel insults the real kids that have these illnesses. Not something I want to support FOX.

    • Chrissy

      I do have issues with the show, despite the enjoyment I get out of watching it (It’s my guilty pleasure). However, it vexes me that you would say the boys should tell her she looks bad for being sickly skinny. She does not look how most anorexics do, and one could say that the show glorifies anorexia, but not all anorexics have to be sickly looking to be anorexic. It is about what goes on in the head more than the body. They should show more of the symptoms of anorexia, like fainting and weakness, but not have the boys treat her terribly. It doesn’t help anorexics to tell them they are too skinny. It sometimes makes them feel like what they are doing is working, and people who are anorexic have a lot of self esteem issues, so it would only cause more problems to make them feel bad about themselves, even if you think you are reversing his/her point of view. Maybe instead of anything cruel they could introduce a new character that has a less hollywood “perfect” body that the boys are also into, or that at least one of them starts becoming attracted to. But this show’s main concern isn’t that of Glee’s; they don’t make it their duty to make a place for all different kinds of people, maybe they should just start with a more realistic portrayal of illness and hospital life. There is nothing wrong with being attracted to an anorexic person, it’s whether or not you are attracted to this person because of their size or not. I also decided to use the word vex because using SAT words in everyday life will help me to remember them better.

    • Shylo

      The show is to represent how normal kids with normal life’s get diagnosed with diseases. How, there were they had life’s until they got diagnosed. And I love the show. If you don’t like it not watch it.

  • successful white guy

    not to mention everyone seems to become a telepath when there in commas talking to the little boy and stuff

  • J.

    I was apprehensive as soon as I saw the commercial for this show. I am a teenager and I suffer from anorexia. When I first saw how lively all these kids seemed I was disappointed. I can’t speak on behalf of any other illness portrayed in the show, except anorexia. I’ve been through living in a hospital, residential treatment, etc. The character emma is extremely triggering to say the least. The fact that she gets to “eat” alone really pisses me off. Let me tell you I was at UCLA and there were two nurses for about 5 kids sitting with you while you ate. If you didn’t eat, well I learned the hard way. You get TUBE FED. No, you don’t get some cheerleader to eat for you, that never happens. Emma is portrayed as this smart, witty, beautiful girl. When you are at the point where you need hospitalization you are not beautiful. Your pale, frail, your face is hollow, etc. Like I said I was there. Most importantly I can tell you NO BOY finds you attractive, let alone would two boys fight over you. This show isn’t portraying a girl struggling with anorexia. It’s portraying a girl living it up in a hospital having fun hanging out with friends. I feared this would happen. I knew they were going to glorify eating disorders. How about you show people how half of your hair falls out and becomes dull. I have never seen anyone in the hospital with beautiful shiny thick long hair. What about putting some makeup on her to make her face look how it really should. SICK. Anorexia shows in your face not just your body. How about showing people how cold you get or how tired you are. Or since she never eats in the hospital show the fainting that happens to all of us struggling with anorexia. The writers should show how disturbing and miserable it is to live with anorexia. I hope they know that it is a psychological disorder and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t have to do with food. They aren’t portraying depression, anxiety, mood, ect. This girl is lively and cheerful. I’ve never met anyone with an eating disorder who is not severely depressed. The biggest flaw is how they show kids with different diseases all together running around a hospital. While I lived in a hospital let me tell you I never once saw a person with cancer, heart failure, or cystic fibrosis. They are each so unique and deadly diseases that they are separated into their own wards. It’s not like I went and hung out with a cancer patient. No, you only see fellow patients with eating disorders. Another flaw, the doors are LOCKED. I repeat LOCKED. There are huge scary steel doors that require card verification to get through. So, seeing them run around and even leaving the hospital makes me sick. Kids were locked in one room that had a couch, some dining tables, and a small tv. That’s it. As far as bedrooms I laughed at how their rooms look nicer than my own room in my house. Overall, this show makes hospital life look more fun than normal life. They hardly portray their illnesses with the exception of the two cancer patients. I have now seen the 4th episode and that will be my last. Way to teach girls that a size 000 yes a 000 is beautiful. In the 4th episode I kid you not two girls compliment emma on how she is a 000. How sick and twisted is that? What a great size to aspire to! There isn’t even a 000 there is only 00 which is extremely sick. As a person who has anorexia and has lived in a hospital I am so disappointed and utterly triggered by this show. I do not recommend any young girls watch this show. Parents beware. Your daughters will get body image and food totally distorted. Sorry for the long comment, but as a teenager who has gone through this I thought people should know what it is really like to live in a hospital.

    • a smart person

      You have to remember they are just actors. While I can see your point i also see the realistic side to be the simple fact that Emma was as close as they could get to a girl suffering from anorexia. If they had gotten someone with anorexia well that wouldn’t happen because that’s not safe. You gotta remember this is only a SHOW and they are only ACTORS. Try not taking it so literally

  • Rachel Leigh Tucker

    Described my thoughts exactly. Kinda bummed

  • Jessi

    I soo wanted to like this show, but lets get real its the most unrealistic show. Yes lets show a child with stage 4 cancer not tired, sick, frail or weak, but instead being able to leave the hosptial anytime and even take a joy ride in a car. The girl with the enlarged heart has to wear a heart monitor, but has the easit access to weed like what?? And an aneroxic can eat by herself without any nurse? Really?! PLUS THE HOSPTIAL LOOKS LIKE PAGE 2 OUT OF THE CHILDRENS POTTERY BARN!

  • CFGirl

    I agree. As someone with Cystic Fibrosis, I was annoyed at Dash’s portrayal of this disease. He is supposedly in there for a lung transplant yet never coughs and appears to have no difficulty breathing. He is very physically able and has no tubes (piccs or ports). Very unrealistic and a little insulting to people who suffer from this disease. I can only imagine that people who have cancer feel the same way about the other characters in this show.

    • randbsmommy

      I just watched episode 8 and they showed dash’s character having a very hard time breathing and coughing up blood give the show a chance its not a reality show its a tv show its not supposed to be spot on there are flaws in it but no show is perfect but itnis a good show and my new guilty pleasure

      • CFGirl

        The idea that CF is only an occasional flare up disease is irksome. Breathing is a challenge every moment of every day, and if Dash is unhealthy enough to be in a hospital, he would not be running around, smoking weed, taking joyrides, etc. That being said, I’m glad to hear the show gets better.