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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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