in Television

‘Red Band Society’ Pilot Review: Heartbreaking, Funny, and Sincere

“Life is full of black holes and the only person who can pull you out is you.”

One of the most talked about TV shows aired tonight on FOX and the very positive buzz that came along with it is well-deserved. Developed by Margaret Nagle for American television, Red Band Society is based on the true story of Albert Espinosa, who, at the age of 14, was diagnosed with bone cancer. As with all other shows, there were aspects that worked and others that did not work. Overwhelmingly though, there is no doubt that this show was able to pull off heartbreaking moments in the most sincere and, at times, funny ways.

We’re introduced to the lives of these six teenagers/children with the arrival of Kara (Zoe Levin), a bratty cheerleader with a mysterious illness, and Jordi (Nolan Sotillo), who has cancer in his leg and is set to get his leg amputated the next day. Other interesting characters to note are Dash (Brian “Astro” Bradley), who has cystic fibrosis; Emma (Ciara Bravo), an overachiever with an eating disorder; Leo (Charlie Rowe), who also has cancer and has had his leg amputated; and Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who is in a coma and serves as our narrator throughout the series. And then there are the adults who work at the hospital, from Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer), who gives off a bitch vibe, but shows her soft spot for the patients every now and then, to Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable), who is the main doctor for these characters.

What really works is this ensemble cast of breakout stars, although there are certain characters that stand out more than others. I’m most excited to see more from Kara and Leo, who I find to be two of the most complex characters. Leo does say that there are many layers of Kara we have yet to see, and we do get a glimpse of them when she finds out her chances of getting a heart transplant are highly unlikely due to her smoking and drug habits. We see some of her goodness, albeit she does use it to her advantage, when she soothes Charlie’s dad’s mind by telling him that whatever happened to Charlie isn’t his fault.

red band society

As for character relationships, it seems like the show is leaning heavily toward having a little something something going on between Emma and Jordi. As of now, I’m alright with it, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the actual character’s storylines. I don’t want Emma’s eating disorder to be pushed to the wayside and have her be demoted to just a character stuck in a love triangle. That’s why I found her relationship with Leo more appealing. They had a relationship before, but Leo ruined it by breaking it off. It’s clear that he broke it off; in fact, he says it’s because he didn’t want to get close to her because he’s scared of losing anyone. Now they just make each other, in Charlie’s words, “miserable” by teasing each other over their respective illnesses. I felt like that idea was quickly introduced, but thrown out the window with the introduction of Jordi into her life. If that could be explored more, that would make the characters very interesting.

What I wasn’t very fond of throughout the episode was the use of the voiceover narration. Flat out, the character of Charlie says, “This is me talking to you from a coma. Deal with it.” I can understand why there would be a lot of voiceover in this first episode, with the setup and all, but I don’t think it’s necessary that he literally spells out everything for the viewers. It worked toward the beginning and in random areas of the episode, but it shouldn’t be something they rely on to tell their story. Show us, don’t tell us. But, sure Charlie, I’ll deal with it. On the other hand, I’m really eager to see how they’ll continue to tell his story through the use of his being able to speak to other characters while they are stuck where he is, in the in-between.

This leads me into another aspect I really enjoyed. I thought the cinematography was superb, particularly for a pilot episode. The closeup shots were incredibly unique. They’re not the very typical shots taken of sitcoms. They’re creative, artistic. It brings together the theme of playfulness that they bring across between the more emotional scenes.

I really hope more people watch Red Band Society because it has honestly been awhile since I’ve seen a pilot this good with as much heart as it did have. Even from just this first episode, we’re in for an emotional roller coaster, but I’m very excited to see how it turns out.

(Sidenote: I have an idea of how this show might end, but I’m not going to say anything about it because I don’t want to sway anyone’s opinions or be totally wrong about it. But when the time comes and if I’m right, you’ll definitely get an A-HA moment from me.)