Most medical TV shows today revolve around the doctors and their lives, rather than focusing on those getting medical attention. That's one reason Fox's "Red Band Society" stands out.
The comedy-drama stars Octavia Spencer as Nurse Jackson, a blunt and somewhat sharp around the edges woman who wants what's best for her patients and genuinely cares about them.
Spencer's biggest role before now was in 2011's Southern drama "The Help" which won her the 2012 Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting role for playing Minny Jackson (same last name, different roles). The two roles are similar though in that both women are sassy and they don't take any crap.
Though Spencer takes first billing, the show really is about the young patients of hottie Dr. Jack McAndrew's (Dave Annable, "Brothers & Sisters") who are in her care. It's clear to see the focus is on the kids--the patients--which sets "RBS" apart.
"RBS" is based on the Spanish TV series "Polseres Vermelles" which was created by Albert Espinosa and drew on his life experiences as a kid who battled cancer from age 14 to 24.
Espinosa lost a leg to cancer and still has his original "red band" (his hospital bracelet from his time there). In the American series, Espinosa's autobiographical character is former soccer player Leo Roth (Charlie Rowe) who had one of his legs amputated because he had an osteosarcoma.
The hour-long show has a soap-y sort of feel to it but combines humor, a hospital environment, family drama and real issues to produce an extended coming-of-age story.
The patients in the hospital, dealing with issues from cancer to eating disorders to cystic fibrosis and more, unexpectedly become friends and band together to form the red band society.
Despite taking place in a hospital, "Red Band Society" is optimistic in that it's not about dying, but about living, and shows the daily struggles and triumphs of living with different diseases and illnesses.
Given that the patients are all high school-age, there's a high school sort of clique mentality that's transplanted into their new environment. Leo is a former jock, enlarged heart patient Kara (Zoe Levin) is a cheerleader, anorexic Emma (Ciara Bravo) is the girl next door, cystic fibrosis patient Dash (Astro) is the player, hospital newcomer Jordi (Nolan Sotillo) is the guitar-playing sensitive type, etc.
Though in real life these kids acknowledge they probably would never be friends, their current setting and various circumstances unite them. Their friendships are built based on support and understanding of the challenges and diseases that landed them all in the hospital. Besides the interesting premise and engaging characters, the narrator also sets "RBS" apart.
"RBS" is narrated by 12-year-old Charlie (Griffin Gluck) who is in a coma, so your first thought is "cool" followed by "wait, what?" Charlie may be comatose but is seemingly aware of his surroundings and provides a unique perspective on the lives and happenings in the hospital that carries on around him.
So far, the show's received mixed reviews. Some have said it's sort of "The Fault In Our Stars" meets "Glee." People Weekly's Tom Gliatto gave it an 88 metascore and said "Red Band Society, which could turn out to be one of the best new shows of the fall, is like that, constantly catching you unexpectedly."
Nancy DeWolf Smith of the Wall Street Journal gave the show an 80 and called it "an exhilarating burst of fresh air."
The New York Times' Allesandra Stanley wrote "Red Band Society has a tone that is both sassy and sorrowful, a carefully calculated balance of humor and sentiment" but ultimately gave the show a 60.
Meanwhile, TV Guide's Matt Roush said "the fault in Red Band Society isn't in the stars, but in the over-writing" and also scored the show a 60.
Despite the fact that "RBS" may still be establishing its voice and footing as a freshman drama and figuring out how to balance sentimentality in a cynical world, the show is worth watching.
"Red Band Society" premiered on September 17. So if you have nothing better to do on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. (EST), then give "Red Band Society" a shot (pun intended) -- you may find it's worth your while.