Red Band Society Premiere Recap: Are These Kids All Right?

It takes a gutsy TV pilot to build to a closing scene of an adorable teenage boy getting his leg amputated — and then to sell it as a moment that’s as soaring as it is heartbreaking.

But Red Band Society — a freshman drama that initially looks like over-boiled broccoli but tastes like delicious pizza — has concocted a recipe that, while not entirely perfect, manages to cut its saccharine undertones with acidic punchlines and a complex, meditative view of mortality that’s worth the price of the two or three Kleenex required to get to the closing credits.

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The setup: Deliciously bitchy cheerleader Kara (a fantastic Zoe Levin) and orphaned heartthrob Jordi arrive at a children’s hospital ward — one via ambulance after collapsing during practice, the other scoring an audience with an unspeakably hot, in-demand surgeon (Brothers & Sisters‘ Dave Annable) in the hopes of convincing him to take him on as a patient. Jordi, whose mom died a year ago and was sent back to Mexico in the wake of his loss, now has cancer in his leg — and he wants the best possible doctor on board for his amputation. Kara, whose possible lesbian-romance side plot is too fun/funny/perfect not to score serious followup, learns that her heart is failing — and that her casual drug use puts her at the bottom of the transplant list.

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Kara and Jordi meet up with the other residents of the ridiculously well-furnished ward (damn those kids’ rooms are nice!): Leo, who’s also lost a leg to cancer and possesses the most piercing eyes on the planet (or at least on network television); his erstwhile girlfriend Emma, who’s battling anorexia; party-loving Dash (The X Factor‘s Astro); and coma patient Charlie, who narrates the series from his omniscient’s-eye-view of the ward (while craving pizza and a clean conscience for his dad — played by American Pie‘s Thomas Ian Nichols).

Overseeing the comings and goings of these scrappy kids is Nurse Jackson, a role that Oscar winner Octavia Spencer imbues with gruff humor and a slight air of mystery — as if she’s suffered some deep, psychic wound that we’ll slowly learn about as the season unfolds.

Not every aspect of the pilot works: Charlie’s ability to communicate folks who are unconscious is a little too twee; Griffin Dunne’s rich hypochondriac (who gets to live in the hospital in exchange for donations) pushes the outer edges of plausibility — especially since he spends half his time hanging out with sick teenage boys; and the adult characters don’t feel fully formed by the end of the hour.

But as the pilot builds to a beer-fuelded rooftop party to say goodbye to Jordi’s leg, it’s hard not to get swept up in the percolating romances, the budding friendships and the surprising kinship of the teenage cast. The beauty of Red Band Society is that it imagines its core characters not as “sick kids” — but simply as kids who happen to be sick.

When Jordi makes his final sprint through the hospital — as much to deliver his “red band” to Emma as to feel the thunder of a good sprint one final time — it’s hard not to wonder what’ll come next for these kids and their caregivers.

What did you think of the Red Band Society pilot? Which characters and performances drew you in, and which ones left you a little skeptical? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Eric says:

    I absolutely adored this premiere. It surprised me; when it was first announced as having been picked up, I had absolutely no interest in it, but I decided to check it out based on the good buzz I was hearing. From the first episode alone, it has become my early favourite for the 2014-2015 season. I hope the ratings are good, because the show (at least, so far) definitely is.

  2. Leo says:

    it’s cheesy but cheesy in a good way and the diverse casting is good!

  3. Kim says:

    Fail. Good idea, and I kept an open mind, but as a someone who spent lots of time in the hospital as a kid and teen, this was not even a little bit realistic. I get that not everything can be realistic, but this was pretty terrible.

    • David4 says:

      And House was real? Must people don’t live in hospitals and don’t give a damn about realism in a fun show.

      • I know. If we suddenly care about shows being realistic, we should just avoid all movies, tv’s and fiction books then

      • Kim says:

        House was more way realistic than this.

        These are just my opinions. No need to mock.

        • A fan says:

          As a nurse, I agree 100% with you! Kim! This show is ridiculous in multiple ways.

          • will says:

            As a TV viewer I say then nothing on TV should be enjoyable for you. TV is fiction, its for fun, ignore the parts that are wrong and just enjoy the characters or ensemble. If you don’t like them then don’t watch. What show do you watch Kim, I am sure we can thoroughly find the flaws in its reality, and no House was not in the slightest bit realistic but it was a good show.

          • Kim says:

            It doesn’t bother me that the kid in the coma was narrating or that there were no parents to be found. It just seems like they made no effort to do any research. There are things they could do to make it more realistic without affecting the storylines. I even watch soaps, and have no problem with people coming back from the dead – it serves a purpose for the show. This is just my opinion, I know it doesn’t bother a lot of people and I respect that.

    • Nick says:

      Well, seeing as how Scrubs was the most realistic medical show to date…I think there’s room for style and fiction.

    • Alex says:

      Agreed, they could have made it at least a bit more realistic. It was just terrible.

  4. Para says:

    dont really like the pqce, i think it is too slow

  5. Jamie says:

    I watched the pilot a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 9 and the disease has been quite aggressive over the years. Being sick for 25+ years with many major surgeries & hospitalizations, it was nice to see a show I could relate to. As the article mentioned there are some unrealistic aspects. A quote from the pilot that really touched me was “Your body isn’t you. Your soul is you. And they can never cut into your soul.”. I hope this show helps many others living with illness to feel a little less alone. Laughter can sometimes be the best medicine, especially during the dark & painful times.

  6. lmjo says:

    I can only suspend reality/plausibility so far with tv shows, and “Red Band Society” stretched me too thin. I spent an extended period of time (2 mo.) in a specialized hospital as a child, and as a result, I found too many of the little unbelievable things annoying. Cases in point: Those hospital rooms almost looked like dorm rooms! And going down to the cafeteria by yourself? Hospital staff always brought my meals to me. Also, why does the otherwise bald main character still have his thick eyebrows if he’s on chemo?

    I don’t know… Maybe I’m being too nitpick-y, but I just didn’t believe that anyone of those characters had a serious medical issue. I actually think this show would work better if it *wasn’t* set in the hospital.

    • Fran says:

      I could be wrong, but it was my understanding that not everyone loses their eyebrows, eyelashes, etc from chemo. I thought it depends on the type of treatment and the individualized person…. But again, I could be wrong so correct me if I am.

    • Laura says:

      I had childhood cancer and I can say my rooms were always decorated fun and crazy with stuff we brought and that we were always going to the cafeteria or gift shop on our own. I find this show to be extremely relatable and nice that they show that just because kids are sick doesn’t mean they stop being kids, my chemo buddies & I were always pulling pranks and having wheelchair races around the nurses station. PS I can say for a fact eyebrows & eyelashes don’t always fall out, mine never did.

      • MAxine says:

        I had cancer twice and the first time I was 12 and no way was I even allowed to leave the oncology floor let alone enter anyone elses room. And when ever we did visit each others rooms the nurses would wrangle us all up and let us either hang out in the play room or head back to our own rooms. Scrubs is an unrealistic show but at least the patients were acting within believable reason, you know like not roaming the halls as if they owned the place. Plus that one guys eyebrows where way too bushy, his head is bald, his eye brows should look thinner than that, I know because I was bald several times and even though I didn’t loose my eyebrows entirely they were significantly thinner than usual. I enjoy a lot of ridiculous shows but this show was like nails to a chalkboard it got under my skin.

    • derek says:

      If you can only ‘suspend reality so much’, you obviously must not have ever watched Star Trek, Outlander, mork & Mindy, firefly, or any of the myriad shows which have existed for generations now for the sake of ….. Wait for it…. Entertainment.

      • lmjo says:

        Haha, you’re actually correct in your assumption. I haven’t seen most of the shows you listed — mainly because many were before my time/memory (I’m 25). This show just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m guess I’m more partial to dramas than I thought. Not a big deal. I’m glad that many others were able to enjoy it.

    • Kim says:

      I completely agree. Where are the IV poles? I could believe this much more if it was a show about kids with illnesses after or between hospital stays.

    • amanda says:

      Agree with you 100% I’ve been saying this same thing since I watched show.. to much drugs sex and partying for kids who are very ill. Its almost like they are not paying attention to what really goes on for a kid who is truly seriously that ill.

  7. Aleana says:

    It was good hope rating is good remind me a lot of the breakfast club different kids who really have nothing common but coming together to support each other favorite quote: “Everyone thinks that when you go to a hospital, life stops. But it’s just the opposite – life starts.”

  8. Evan says:

    Watched this a few weeks ago and again tonight. Really loved it. It’s got a Glee + Grey’s vibe, and if it maintains the early quality of those shows, we’re in for something special. Charlie Rowe is the early standout, and Octavia Spencer is great. Too early to call, but it might definitely be my favorite new show of the year.

  9. Lindsey says:

    I don’t even care if it was unrealistic. I loved it and can’t wait for the next episode. I just hope it doesn’t have the typical FOX fate and either have one good season and then suck or get cancelled really quickly.

  10. jackie says:

    I turned it off halfway through. Totally unrealistic, manipulative and smaltzy all in one package. A kid that is in a coma who knows everything that’s going on, even when it’s not in his room. No parents anywhere to be found. A hospital that is decorated more like a fancy private resort or hotel. Boring characters. Bad dialogue.

    • Alex says:

      To be fair, parents were mentioned or appeared a bit. The one kid’s mother had died, the cheerleader’s parents were in a scene talking to the doctor, and the coma kid’s dad was hanging around. But where were the other parents? Were they mentioned? seen? I thought that should been covered, even with throwaway lines (“I’ve been here so long, my parents only come every few days now to see me,” or whatever).

  11. Kat says:

    As someone who spent a lot of time in the hospital as a child recovering from major surgeries, I can say that the medical elements of the pilot were not realistic at all. However, I admire the effort and it’s great to see the less than healthy get some representation on television.

  12. Joey Padron says:

    Like pilot episode when I watched it on Hulu & like it again when I watched it tonight. It did remind me of Breakfast Club. Looking forward to see more episodes.

  13. KN says:

    I was iffy the first half, but it picked up. I’ll be back next week.

  14. Fran says:

    I guess people expect different things from the show. I never expected the show to be completely realistic (I realized that when the previews showed a kid in a coma narrating the show). So it didnt bother me at all. It wasnt perfect but I really enjoyed it. I’ll be back next week.

    • Kim says:

      I did not expect it to be very realistic, but it is not even a little bit realistic. I couldn’t imagine it being farther off from what it’s actually like. One example is that every kid in the hospital should be attached to an IV, which is not to say they wouldn’t be mobile. I understand that some people are okay with that, it’s just hard for me to watch.

      • I’m sorry, but why should they all be attached to IV’s? One is waiting for a heart, other has an eating disorder, one is not in active treatment for cancer, the other hasn’t had his surgery yet… the only one that should have one is the one in a coma. Just because they live in the hospital, doesn’t mean that they have to be linked to a bag of salin

        • Kim says:

          From my experience, if you’re in the hospital, you have an IV. If the kids are all well enough to be just hanging around, why are they in the hospital? It would make more sense if the show was set in a clinic.

          • Isobel says:

            Given IVs can cause kidney and heart problems if given incorrectly they wouldn’t be on them if they didn’t need them, and they’re not outpatients so they wouldn’t be in a clinic

          • Jason says:

            I was hospitalized for a week a few years ago. I had an IV for two days, just until I was well enough to eat on my own. They took out my IV on the third day, but had to stay in confinement for five more days. So, no, if you’re in the hospital, you don’t always have to have an IV.

      • Johanna says:

        There are plenty of reasons why someone could be in a hospital and not on an IV. If someone can eat and drink ok, there’s no need for saline for hydration and certainly not a constant drip. My DH was in the hospital many times for heart failure, and he was only on saline post surgeries. Medicine is constantly changing, and old practices may not be the standard anymore.

        • Kim says:

          Okay, I’m asking now for my education, not to argue about the show. Someone is in the hospital because there is something that can be done at the hospital, like medication and monitoring, that can’t be done at home. So what’s a reason for keeping someone in the hospital if they don’t need an IV or to be hooked up to anything and they are mobile? Again, I’m actually asking, not making an argument.

          • Fran says:

            Why is my reply not posting???

          • lsgibson531 says:

            One explanation would be an intermittent IV which is receiving medication for a short period of time and then being able to disconnect. They would have a line that could connect to the IV which contains a mix of medication and liquid and can sometimes be as quick as 15 minutes. Then they disconnect until the next round of medication. My hope is that some of the questions people are raising can be addressed over the next few episodes.

  15. Mike R. says:

    Did people really expect them to make the backdrop all dark and gloomy with empty rooms, sure its unrealistic to have it all decorated, but its tv, complain about the staff allowing them to smoke and etc, but decorating their rooms just comes with the fact that its tv.

  16. Tran says:

    Fox should have a huge breakout hit in Red Band Society. I give it an A.

  17. webly3 says:

    I really liked it. Of course, there were some flaws but what pilot is perfect these days? What this show has is a lot of potential. I think this show is going to become something special. Hopefully enough people watch it.

  18. DarkDefender says:

    Stupid show. I liked it way more than I ever thought I would.

  19. Eric says:

    I’ll get a lot of hate for this as the majority seems to absolutely love the show, but I just wasn’t enjoying it all that much. The dialogue was not well written. The first few scenes of the show were pretty hard to sit through because the things the characters would say were just ridiculous or cheesy. There was a lot of humor, but most of it fell flat for me. Not to mention, WAY too much narration. That needs to be toned down and kept to a minimum. Actually, I’d prefer it be cut out completely, but we all know that won’t happen. Lastly, most of the characters didn’t stick with me. Leo was the only one that truly stood out to me. The rest were just “blah.” I have a lot of criticisms, but I didn’t completely hate it. It had some touching moments, there were a few laughs, and a few other enjoyable parts of the premiere. I just don’t seem why everybody is going crazy over it. I’ll keep watching to see how it progresses, but I’m still waiting to see what is so special about it.

    • Alex says:

      Agreed, the kid characters really sucked. The narration was an awful idea, and the dialogue was mostly OTT or forgettable. The idea that cheerleaders would all carry cell phones on them during practice was possibly the stupidest part. It’s not a downright terrible show, but I’ve seen a LOT better. I think many viewers just automatically sympathize with sick kids and give the show bonus points because of that.

  20. enri says:

    I loved this pilot. I smiled, laughed and cried. This show has lots of heart. Can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

    • Alicia says:

      It’s Glee in a hospital, but in a good way. It has the freshness that Glee did when it first aired. Besides the medical stuff and the hospital being ridiculous it actually was good! I’m just hoping they can dispense with the archtypes that seem very similar to those of Glee’s at the very beginning earlier then Glee did. I really liked the heart they showed with the different kids going through some pretty awful diseases! Though the eating disorder girl being the hospital instead of the psych ward or something is weird to me, but I would like them to develop them that more.

  21. Hot Dumb Italian Mike says:

    Given the subject matter I thought I would be poppin’ the Xanax and Jack Daniels before they made it too the first “American Idol” commercial…or Charmin(they’re still using the bears). It was a smart well acted show. At times it did start to remind me a bit too much of “Glee”….not good since the zeigeist has dripped away from that. Best performance came from the cheerleader, you hate her but… only part that annoyed, said cheerleader ordering pizza to the room. Taken directly from a real news story made it a bit too “soccer momish” and “cutesy”. Otherwise, good show!

  22. Moment says:

    I think when the numbers come in this show will do quite well for Fox, likely high 1s, maybe low 2s.

  23. Pam DeGranzge says:

    My teens were very excited to watch but had to turn it off half way through due to inappropriate material. Do you have to sell sex to have a great TV show? No Thanks, teens need better options.

    • Nate Mayhew says:

      You need to understand the times your teens are growing up in. One day they will go off to college and be completely unprepared for today’s world. I’m not saying they need to act like they see on TV, but they should understand that that is what goes on instead of being naive and taken advantage of. Just my unasked for two cents.

      • Isobel says:

        Agree they need all the information and if they’ve been raised properly they’ll make the right choices, but hiding reality from them won’t help them in life

  24. Jane says:

    I can suspend belief for most of it but one thing that really bugged me is, who is the guardian for Jodi? There is no way a hospital would operate and incur this kind of cost unless a guardian had been appointed for this guy. That being said, if it doesn’t just turn into yet another love triangle show for yet another female character who’s appeal I just don’t get, and if they actually center the show on how these kids deal with their illnesses I might stick around.

  25. Sarah says:

    Dave Annable with the salt and pepper hair and ginger beard? Smokin’!!!!

    Am I right?!

  26. chocolatfrog says:

    oh dang, wasnt it suppose to start the 24th?

  27. Ally Oop says:

    There were some really great moments in this premiere but I do find the unrealistically beautiful hospital build ing and spacious rooms a tad distracting

  28. Nick says:

    I’m a sucker for a well acted drama series, so I loved this pilot. I watched it a few weeks ago on Hulu Plus. I think its got a lot of potential.

  29. Maya says:

    I think it has a lot of potential. The cast is really fabulous but I really hope that they tone down the voiceovers because they were a bit too much. Also while her whole storyline is a cliche, I am hoping the writers will explore her character and make her into more than a stereotypical cheerleader.

  30. Dude says:

    8 weeks coma myself. People in comas can’t narrate. The central premise is flawed and only stupid people will buy it. Hospitals don’t work this way!

  31. I watched RBS when Hulu had it for 100 hours and I loved it. I thought it was slow at first but eventually it picked up the pace. I hope FOX decides to give this show a chance to grow to see if it will be successful :)

  32. bj says:

    I wonder if the people who are talking about flawed premises and lack of realism have ever watched the multitude of shows lately about vampires, or the undead. Now those suspend belief, but obviously people find them entertaining as they’re still on. Some even seem to be procreating. *insert eye roll*

    I didn’t expect to enjoy it either as it’s not normally my type of show, but I found it very entertaining. I’ll definitely be back for more.

    • Kim says:

      Shows about vampires are not depicting a real situation.

    • Kim says:

      I actually don’t mind that the kid in the coma was narrating or that the parents are nowhere to be found. Those things are needed to make the show what they want. I just wish they had done some smaller things that would not have affected the show in a major way, but could have made it a little more realistic. Just my opinion.

  33. JJ says:

    I tried, I don’t think it’s bad, but I also don’t think I’m the demographic. This would be a good replacement for Glee I’m sure.

  34. jojo says:

    by the end i was hoping that coma kid would die. just being honest – i hate that plot device.

  35. Patti says:

    I was surprised that I enjoyed this show. It is a show that I will watch again.

  36. Joann says:

    Rewatching the pilot again, love these kids and their spunk. I am especially loving Octavia Spencer! Can’t wait to see more, amend it’s nice to see that David Annable finally graduated from mec school!

  37. Colleen says:

    I really wish that this article had mentioned that Dash has Cystic Fibrosis, especially since the health conditions of all the other kids were described. One of the positive things about having a TV show feature a character who has CF, however unrealistic the portrayal may be, is that it brings awareness to it. Everybody knows what cancer is. But just think: for every 20 people that read this article, maybe one of those people may have gone and Googled Cystic Fibrosis, and learned a little something about it.

    • barbara says:

      My cousin died from Cystic Fibrosis when she was only 21. I used to visit her in the hospital, she constantly had pneumonia. Regarding the boy with CF, he is smoking? That aspect is unreal . CF patients have terrible lungs and now many are getting lung transplants. However, I still love this show.

  38. Brigid says:

    What TV show is based in any way on reality? None You can’t tell me that cop shows, hospital shows, court room shows or even reality tv is any way realistic. They aren’t and that is fact. They are all given some leeway to make it dramatic.

    Kids who live in hospitals do decorate their rooms. I thought the show was good. It has a good premise and the acting was very good. The writing was a bit cliched but I think that might just be because it’s the pilot and they need to set up who these characters are.

    By the way DUDE: thank you for telling me that people in comas don’t narrate, being a stupid person here I thought they all did. Consider me enlightened by your intelligence! :/

  39. karen1228 says:

    I really think I’m to old to be watching stuff like this because it pushed the boundaries of reality a bit too far. The obnoxious, annoying blond cheerleader was the only plausible character. Sorry, but I doubt I’ll tune in again. Seems to be a waste of Octavia Spencer’s talent.

  40. greysfan says:

    Amazing pilot. Too bad about the ratings. Hopefully that was because it was released on Hulu. Fingers crossed it will rise in the coming weeks. I don’t want to see another great show cancelled because America can’t give it a chance.

  41. Alexander says:

    Some of it was ridiculous (like Leo giving his treasured red bands to newcomers like Kara as if he’s known them for years, or coma kid’s telepathic communication with the unconscious), but overall it was pretty enjoyable. I’m giving it a few episodes before passing final judgment and deciding if it’s worth continuing to watch, but I liked what I’ve seen so far.

  42. It is refreshing to finally see a program that has so many wonderful elements: creativity, great acting, great camera work, set design, etc. etc. I applaud all the people connected with this new tv series. The pilot show was “spot on” perfect. Writers of this show, please continue with the high level of writing & thank you! Actors, you are fortunate to have such good lines to deliver. Octavia Spencer is just perfect as Nurse Jackson.

  43. Gut reaction says... says:

    It seemed to me that this show is trying to be “The Fault In Our Stars” but without the adroitness. Also, for a bunch of supposedly really sick kids, they all looked fairly glowing with health to me. If you’re going to do a show that is about “kids who happen to be sick” I think ignoring the sick part is maybe not the way to go about it. Granted, it’s just the pilot.

  44. PFitzDC says:

    Slezak–You musta been smokin’ something when watching this ENTIRELY twee episode, in which every line is so mannered and forced. Ugh! I had higher hopes, but have already deleted it from my DVR list.

  45. Fan says:

    I would watch it every Wednesday but it’s hard with all my schoolwork so I have to record it and watch it on the weekends. I hope the fact that it’s on a weekday won’t hurt it’s ratings!!!

  46. Emily says:

    OK, here’s the deal: if you use drugs, you don’t get LISTED for a transplant, at all, at least not without being drug free for a LONG period of time. Organs are way too precious to be given to people who aren’t going to take care of them.

  47. KS says:

    Gay and LGBT characters and Fox bills this as a “family friendly” show? Lol…not my family.