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‘Red Band Society’ Review: What Ails the Ambitious Fox Dramedy?

'Red Band Society' Review: What Ails the Ambitious Fox Dramedy?

Voice-Over Abuse Syndrome

DIAGNOSIS: “Red Band Society” is not the only new show this year suffering from this condition. In fact, voice-over abuse is so common that it’s basically become the HPV of the fall season — everyone has it. But voice-over is so ingrained into “Red Band Society” that it’s created an entire side character to serve as its source — a teen kid whose coma powers give him the ability to see and know all, played by Griffin Gluck (who spends most of his time lying in bed, and thus has the cushiest gig of any actor on television).

TREATMENT: Unless Coma Kid passes away or wakes up, his voice-over will be with us for the duration. The best treatment, going forward, would be to make it as minimal as possible, and avoid using it as a club to beat us over the head with the show’s themes.

SIDE EFFECTS: Minimizing the voice-over would mean the show would have to find other ways of revealing facts about the characters and delivering puns about their conditions. The former improves the overall quality of the show’s writing and the latter would not be missed. “Red Band” would also have to find something else to keep Gluck busy, but fortunately for him, Coma Kid isn’t a completely lifeless presence on the show — and the mystery of how he ended up in a coma is one of the better elements introduced in the pilot. Digging into his backstory would be far more interesting than more cracks about how a heartless girl (irony!) needs a new heart.

Spencer Underuse-Itis

DIAGNOSIS: How many Academy Award winners are on network television right now? Well, more than there used to be, sure. But how many of them are playing second fiddle to a bunch of kids? Just Octavia Spencer, who was easily one of the best things about “The Help,” but here is stuck on the sidelines as a caustic but caring nurse. She’s once again one of the best things on screen, and deserves to be on it more.

TREATMENT: How about a backstory for Nurse Jackson? An explanation as to what makes her so cranky with strangers and patients alike? Hell, how about a first name? There are plenty of episodes in a season, so there’s time for “Red Band” to reveal more about her. Plus, it’d make some progress on addressing that problem mentioned recently by Viola Davis (one of the other best things about “The Help”): the lack of interesting roles for black women on television — especially black women who don’t look like Kerry Washington.

SIDE EFFECTS: More screen time for Spencer means less screen time for the show’s young cast, and the show’s not being sold as The Octavia Spencer Show — Fox is hoping to invoke the same kids-with-cancer magic that made “The Fault in Our Stars” into a tear-soaked box office success.

Love Quadrangle Fever

DIAGNOSIS: Speaking of “The Fault in Our Stars”… Apparently, there’s nothing like teen romance to add that special flavor to cancer drama, and so the pilot sets up not just a friendship between Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) and Leo (Charlie Rowe), but relationships (or potential relationships) with Kara (Zoe Levin) and Emma (Ciara Bravo). All of these range in depth and development, but verge on being superficial (Two attractive young people are in a room together! Flirting must occur!) and ultimately distracting.

TREATMENT: Of all the connections between the core four characters (weirdly, cystic fibrosis patient Dash (Astro) is currently left out of the romantic entanglements), the pre-existing awkwardness between Leo and Emma is by far the most developed and affecting. Giving the other relationships a chance to go deeper — and making the show avoid treating these romances like a game of hormonal musical chairs — should keep things solid.

SIDE EFFECTS: By avoiding the perils of “90210”-esque soap opera drama, “Red Band Society” can stay focused on what makes it unique and affecting: The realities of life with chronic illness and how the physical both does and does not define us. That, and Octavia Spencer, of course.

Grade: B

“Red Band Society” premieres tonight on Fox.

READ MORE: Fall 2014 TV Preview: Wednesday is Family Night as Steven Spielberg Tries to Dethrone ‘Modern Family’

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