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The Topic of Cancer

Credit: Dan Steinberg, Frederick M. Brown; Photos: Getty, Fox Posted to: Astro, Charlie Rowe, Ciara Bravo, Griffin Gluck, Nolan Sotillo, Red Band Society, Zoe Levin
Credit: Dan Steinberg, Frederick M. Brown; Photos: Getty, Fox
Posted to: Astro, Charlie Rowe, Ciara Bravo, Griffin Gluck, Nolan Sotillo, Red Band Society, Zoe Levin

RED BAND SOCIETY on FOX

“I think the reason it works so well is because it just it connects these two opposing themes of alienating hospitals and childhood and just thwacks them together, and you are just watching this evolve.” Charlie Rowe

By Valerie Milano

Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 9/18/14 – FOX premiered its new series Red Band Society on Wednesday night. The network, the producers and the writers should be feeling pretty good about themselves. Red Band Society is a teen oriented hospital dramedy with relevance, edge and heart. Despite surgeries and maladies that should never be visited upon children, our young heroes have managed to construct a hipper, cooler society than the one inhabited by the vigilant adults that surround and support them.

The action is narrated from the perspective of a twelve year-old coma victim, Charlie (Griffin Gluck) who can hear, think and fart, but cannot speak. The fine ensemble cast portray patients and health care professionals thrown together in a pediatric ward at L.A.’s Ocean Park Hospital (Octavia Spencer shines brightly as Nurse Jackson, the all-knowing matriarch of the ward). The afflicted youths suffer from various maladies including; anorexia, cancer and heart disease. The kids battle their conditions heroically and maintain their sanity by doing the things normal teens do; smoking weed, drinking beer and trying to get laid. Bravo to the show’s creators, who portray youth culture as it really is, without resorting to caricature or moralizing.

The dialogue is credible and unforced. The music soundtrack is poignant and unpredictable. The opening credits were set against the backdrop of Brian Eno’s obscure 70’s glam anthem “Needles in The Camel’s Eye”. Strange, but it worked.

There are archetypes in the cast of characters. Most obvious is the snotty high school cheerleader Kara (Zoe Levin), who faints during cheerleading practice and discovers she’s in need of a heart (literally) due to a life threatening condition necessitating a transplant. However archetypes aside, the most refreshing aspect of Red Band Society, is the lack of smug invincibility that contaminates the personas of many teenaged and young adult characters on television. With those layers peeled off, the vulnerability of the kids who wander the halls of Red Band Society is transparent and adds a dimension to teen angst you won’t find on Nickelodeon.

Compassion, tolerance, inclusion, love, laughter, and a token nod to the afterlife insure that Red Band Society doesn’t drag its audience too far into the depths of despair. Wednesday’s premier was confident and bold. Kudos to FOX for not blinking in the face of possible controversy regarding the pairing of children with mature content. Let’s hope Red Band Society breaks out in a big way, and doesn’t lose its nerve.

The Hollywoodtimes.net and other publications recently had a chance to speak with executive producers Justin Falvey and Margaret Nagle and actors Octavia Spencer, Dave Annable, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Wilson Cruz, Charlie Rowe, Zoe Levin, Griffin Gluck, Nolan Sotillo, Ciara Bravo and Astro.

Executive producer offered some statistics and perspective on pediatric medicine, MARGARET NAGLE: “Well, I’m going to take that question. Of 85 percent of all kids and by the way, pediatrics goes through age 24, but 85 percent of all kids that go to the hospital with any one of these diseases in this situation recover. So it’s really about that time that you spend in the hospital and how it changes you and what you learn, and what if you were able to learn what life is actually about when you’re old enough to do something about it? I had a brother who was in a coma, and I grew up pediatric hospitals, and so I found them to be the most uplifting, the most hilarious, the black humor, the fun, the getting to know the kids that you would never know in any other situation, and these walls fall down. So yes, there are serious things that these kids are going to have to face, but it is not a show that has a body count, unlike other shows that are on TV. That’s not where the show lives.”

Nagle went on to describe her personal connection to the storyline of the series, MARGARET NAGLE: “The arc of Season 1 is the story of Charlie, is his story and his immergence. My brother, Charlie, was in a coma for a very, very long time, and he is a remarkable guy, my older brother, and so it is inspired by his story. My brother could hear in the coma. He could spell in the coma. He was experiencing life all around him in the coma. I grew up — I shared a room with him growing up, so that is very much inspired. And my brother’s hilarious. So very much the things that he’s talking about in this coma, we’re going to join in the journey. We’re going to know his family. We’re going to actually see how he, in that coma, connects and changes the lives of these other characters as well. But it’s always going to be fart jokes. It’s going to be right out in the world of being a 12 year old boy, which is what he is.”

Nagle also talked about the most overused narrative device in today’s television landscape – the voiceover, MARGARET NAGLE:  “I actually see changing the voiceover, or one particular episode, the voiceover is fighting with other people vying for the voiceover who are going through other things. So you start to see through different perspectives. We’re lucky because it’s surreal and it’s very human, but it also allows us to go off in any direction. It gives us a kind of creative freedom. In fact, the voiceover at the end of this season will shift to somebody else, and that’s going to be a handoff.”

Actor Charlie Rowe theorized how Red Band Society works in spite of a potentially depressing premise, CHARLIE ROWE: “I think the reason it works so well as a show, and I’ve said this before, is the fact that for all healthy, very lucky people, we don’t go to hospitals that often. We’re there once, twice a year. They’re very alienating places, very anonymous. And then, adolescence and childhood is something that we all go through and we all grow up and we all experience that. So I think the reason it works so well is because it just it connects these two opposing themes of alienating hospitals and childhood and just thwacks them together, and you are just watching this evolve. And it really works as a unique idea.”