When it comes to movies and TV, I’m a woman of extremes: I’ll watch, for example, anything with a rating of over 80% or under 30% on Rotten Tomatoes with a comparable degree of pleasure.
I don’t know if it’s because I have several chronic health conditions or if it’s just a personality quirk, but I’m also always interested to see how sick people (I probably could have phrased that more sensitively?) are portrayed in the media. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I stumbled across Red Band Society, a new Fox dramedy about teenagers who are really, really ill but manage to get into all sorts of heartwarming, high-energy hijinks regardless. The Tomatometer puts it at 59%, but I’m making an exception to my over 80/under 30 rule because I assume that the critics that gave it a positive rating saw a different show than I did.
I loved every saccharine second of it for all the wrong—or right, depending on your perspective—reasons. In terms of things I look for in a television program, it checks the most important boxes: weird and unexplained plot holes; totally implausible premise; emotional manipulation of audience; teens conversing using overly witty dialogue written for them by adults who wish they had been that clever as adolescents.
As someone who spent a significant stretch of time as a patient in a children’s hospital, I can confirm that Red Band Society is shockingly inaccurate, at least on some fronts. It’s possible that hospitals in California are indeed modern resorts with patient rooms so cavernous that my entire apartment could fit in a single one of them, so I won’t comment on the facilities aspect of it. I will, however, say that the healthy-looking sick kids populating this paediatrics ward, alarmingly unsupervised and seldom slowed down by things like, you know, medical procedures or fatigue (even the patient with cystic fibrosis who’s waiting for new lungs zips around the halls with admirable ease), certainly don’t jibe with my real-life experience of real-life sick kids, whom I remember as being in general friendly and funny and all that but were nonetheless sick and could thus be forgiven for not wanting to sneak out to try to buy beer for a secret rooftop party using a fake ID (that was a touching scene in Episode One, incidentally). Something magical must happen to the Red Banders when they go through these hospital doors. But so what? The doctors on ER aren’t exactly a perfect reflection of those in my local emergency room, and Make It or Break It (another of my favourite series—I have excellent taste) presumably doesn’t depict Olympic gymnasts as they actually are. It’s TV.
Sure, some of the characters on Red Band Society are horribly stereotyped, superficial versions of their maladies, and I do take issue with the glamorization of illness that’s the inevitable result of a show that equates a lengthy hospitalization for a life-threatening condition with attending a really fun, laid-back boarding school where tons of autonomy is given and little work is done. Yet bad as it may be, what I care about most is that Red Band Society‘s awfulness makes it such outstanding entertainment. One of the leads is a cheerleader who’s obnoxiously mean to everyone and is hospitalized when it’s discovered that she has a heart condition (she’s at the bottom of the transplant list because of all the illegal substances found in her system). A girl with no heart ends up with an ENLARGED one—how ironic is that? The tone of the series is such that I sensed that these critically-ill-but-remarkably-peppy young patients were perpetually on the verge of breaking out in song, Glee-style. And did I mention that it’s narrated by a boy in a coma? The little guy’s got some serious personality, too.
The second episode’s on tonight. I can’t wait.