Red Band Society, Season 1, Episodes 2-5
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET on FOX
The first quarter of the premiere season of Red Band Society has featured some very strong character moments throughout a narrative that has been, at times, emotionally manipulative. The episodes are often inconsistent with one another, which makes this series feel more episodic than serialized. The pilot episode introduced the main cast and their situations, with the kids more developed than the adults, but as the season has progressed and the stories between the two age groups have intertwined, both sides have gained and lost character momentum respectively. The relationships frequently fail to grow organically, with the character motivations mostly hard to pin down. The questions raised in the pilot episode continue to be addressed, but to a degree that is not fully satisfying, merely confirming information that the audience already has. Although the season’s start is for the most part flawed, the most recent episodes have presented development for the overarching storyline that has potential for some interesting results.
The strength of the series so far has been the cast more than the material they’ve been given to work with. Charlie Rowe, who portrays Leo Roth, is excellent in his role, playing off the emotions that the story needs to convey convincingly and astutely. The most improved character from the pilot is Dash, who is played by Astro. When Dash was first introduced he was an opportunist and horn dog, a potential bad influence on Leo. In the episodes that followed, Dash has been a loyal friend who looks out for Leo and is suspicious of Jordi and Emma, all while also taking care of himself by doing some light shady deals on the side, like taking bets on a poker game between Jordi and his mother. Astro is charismatic and assured in the role and is fun to watch.
One of the characters that has lost value is Kara Souders, the bitchy cheerleader played by Zoe Levin. Her development has been the most incoherent out of all the red band-ers, as she will warm up to fellow red band-er Emma one episode only to be overtly cruel to her the next. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the writers could show why she has these changes of heart, rather than her default characteristic being a need to be terribly cruel to everyone all the time.
Emma is another story. She constantly contradicts herself, as if the writers do not know how to write her like a normal human being with any internal logic. It’s a shame too, because Ciara Bravo seems like a good enough actress, the material she’s being given is just too superficial and poorly developed. She’s at the center of a love triangle between Jordi and Leo and this is her only arc, other than being mistreated by Kara. One episode she just wants to be friends with Leo, in another she’s going to the homecoming dance with him supposedly as friends, then she gets jealous that Leo has kissed Kara and in the next episode she’s telling Leo she wants to be with him and then later that same episode she’s holding hands with Jordi? It’s dizzying, and not in a good way. Speaking of Jordi, Nolan Sotillo has been doing well with the plot lines that he’s been given, even though they’re quite predictable.
The adults have been given some more material to work with, but little that has actually gone anywhere interesting. Dave Annable’s Dr. McAndrews slept with Jordi’s mother to absolutely no complications whatsoever, after which has been shunted to the background. Nurse Jackson has had more development,with Octavia Spencer doing a great job playing her. She’s balancing Jackson’s gruffness with a softer approach, humble at appropriate times and at others, making brash decisions that will surely bring on complications in future episodes. Some interesting teases about her past that have arisen, piquing interest for when those story threads manifest later in the season.
The worst parts of the show are Nurse Brittany and Charlie the coma patient. Rebecca Rittenhouse is annoying as Brittany, who is often used for comic relief with comedy that seldom works within the tone of the show. The show suffers from a lot of poor humor, especially in the narration where Griffin Gluck’s Charlie is most predominant. Not once throughout these first few episodes has the narration worked emotionally- it’s completely out of place and off-putting.
In these early episodes, the highlights have come mostly from Leo’s monologues, during which he explains what the episode fails to show. Leo’s journey has been by far the most interesting of this series. One notable moment is in episode four, “There’s No Place Like Homecoming”, when Emma has been abandoned by Kara at the dance. Emma’s devastation is well portrayed by Bravo, as well as her surprise when Leo shows up, complete with a rose, to save the day. It’s a genuinely sweet moment that although really contrived and not at all set up, still works. Episode five, “So Tell Me What You Want What You Really Really Want” is a Charlie-centric episode, but it features some great moments for Dash as he deals with his limited mortality by leaving his mark via a graffiti mural on the wall of a rooftop. It’s a poignant moment when he explains in a monologue his acceptance of his current situation with Kara.
This first set of episodes hasn’t really done much with Charlie’s psychic connection to the other teens, which is okay because that’s not the kind of story this show is going for. Instead we get parental abandonment issues, teen romance squabbles, and a lot of poorly executed humor. What this series has going for it mainly is the cast, who are all very likeable. Even when it’s uneven, the show has enough strong character moments that when it works, it works really well, with “There’s No Place Like Homecoming” the best single episode so far. Hopefully in future episodes the writers will make the narrative more consistent and give the adults better material to work with.
New episodes of Red Band Society continue November 5th, 2014 at 9pm ET on FOX.