Thursday, September 25, 2014

TV Review: Red Band Society: "Sole Searching" two episodes enough to really figure out a show's formula? I'm not sure about that since two points make a line and not a pattern, and since two episodes is no time whatsoever. Chances are the show we're seeing in Red Band Society after two episodes won't even be the same show we see in five weeks time (assuming the show lasts that long). But after two hours with this show, I think I see what they're interested in early on. Last episode centered around the St Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's Henry V. The kids talked about the song in class that day, Leo quoted it in the episodes pivotal scene on the roof, and throughout the hour the show and the characters went through the motion of building the kind of close bond the speech alludes to. This week, in the cleverly titled "Sole Searching," the phrase at the center of the episode isn't from The Bard, it's the seminal classic about learning about someone by walking a mile in their shoes. As such there are a lot of shots of people's shoes, there are a number of lines about shoes, and there's a lot of trying to get to know these characters by way of seeing the world through their perspective.

Framing the story like that isn't so unique, it's actually the same method Revenge uses on a week to week basis with its episodes. And the jury's still out on whether it's the best way for this show to go, but it didn't stop this from being an enjoyable episode. I keep using the word "enjoyable" when I talk or write about Red Band, but it's still the best one I can think of. The show isn't great. This episode suffers from a lot of the standard second episode problems. There's a lot of re-establishing characters through clunky exposition telling us (instead of showing us) who they are. Said exposition is still being delivered by Charlie from his coma. And no one feels fully real just yet. But the enjoyability of this show shines in small, well contained moments that show you just how good its capable of being.

One of the storylines from this week centers around Kara and her two mothers. I could swear there was a man and a woman getting the news about Kara's condition in the last episode, but I could be wrong about that, or maybe the two people in question weren't her parents after all. Either way, giving her two mothers felt a little tacked on this week, but making those two mothers powerful LA lesbians with tangential connections to Ellen and Portia was pretty funny. Making them so singularly focused on the marketing aspect of Kara's condition and showing how that focus affected her was certainly a good idea. Watching the way Kara's birth mother would engage with her while keeping her attention locked on her phone went a long way towards showing us why Kara is the way she is. It made the hug the three of them shared at the end of the episode a lot more cathartic than I expected it to be this early in the show's run.

Also in that mode is the relationship between Leo and Dash, and the general emotional trip that Leo goes on in this episode. After spending the morning blowing off his physical therapy in order to be there for Jodi when he woke up (post surgery and minus a leg), Leo finds out (in what can only be a huge breech of doctor-patient confidentiality) that Jordi's leg wasn't amputated after all. Leo storms out before Dr. McAndrew can explain that the reason why he didn't take Jordi's leg is because the cancer's far worse than they originally thought and amputation wasn't needed just yet. So to Leo, it just looks like the kid he'd bonded with over having the same diagnosis, actually got off a lot luckier than he did when Dr. McAndrew took his leg however long ago. To blow off some steam, he puts on his prosthetic, which he's been railing against all episode, grabs his best friend Dash, and limps across the street to the Frat Party the two of them have been spying on for awhile. Leo just wants to feel like a real boy again, basically, and where better to do that than with a bunch of frat douche bags getting wasted in the middle of the day? spending an hour or two there, fitting in and flirting with the pretty girls, the real world tries to intrude on Leo's escape in the form of his friends and the nurses at the hospital looking for him. Dash tries to get him to leave the party, and in retaliation Leo gets mean and pushes him away. When he takes the pretty girl he's hit it off with to a nearby bedroom and she starts to get undressed and tries to undress him, the horror of her being about to see his fake leg brings the real world crashing into him again and once more he gets mean and she leaves him alone too. It leads to Dash and Nurse Brittany finding him on the floor with this heartbreaking expression on his face.

This works, in my opinion, for two main reasons. 1) It presents a great relationship between Leo and Dash. Unlike the typical TV reaction, Dash doesn't get hurt by Leo's insensitive comments and go off and sulk for awhile, or rush back to the hospital and rat him out. Instead, he finds Brittany, who is clearly way more of a pushover than Nurse Jackson, and quietly returns to help his friend get home safely. There isn't even a scene in which Leo apologizes for his actions. Dash just gets it and accepts it in a way that I found touching and refreshing. 2) It builds on the image of Leo as a generally good guy who is trying his hardest to both make and keep friends and to keep people at a distance. He admits a bit later on (in another scene that tells me this show will not be known for its subtlety) that he was really on interested in waiting for Jordi because he didn't want to feel alone anymore. So when it turned out that he and Jordi weren't sharing the same fate, he got jealous and a bit less interested. It's a very teen-drama thing to do, but it's also very human in a way I appreciated.

I don't know how long Red Band Society will be with us. I tend not to have much faith in Fox to allow shows to stick around. And when those shows are just good instead of great, I think my faith decreases significantly. And if the show wants to get "better" by any possible objective standards, there are a couple things it'll need to do. For starters, and I'm sure I'll sound like a broken record on this point for awhile, they have to figure out the voice over narration issue. Charlie continues to point out things that don't need to be pointed out at all, and that add nothing to the story at hand. Using him to bookend the episodes with a little narration about themes of the week (shoes and empathy here) wouldn't go amiss. But having him chime in on the regular workings of the hospital and makes pointless observations like "The only thing harder than sneaking out of a hospital is sneaking back in," simply isn't working. The sad thing about this is that they've actually got the perfect way to use Charlie in the episode. When Jordi goes under for his surgery, he wakes up in the in between place where Charlie lives. Charlie tries to offer him a game of chess, but Jordi claims to not be feeling his best and he collapses. Charlie rushes to his side and offers words of comfort and then we never see them in that place again. This is a wasted opportunity. Leo made mention of a similar experience when he had his surgery, and placing Charlie as the kind of monitor and the ultimate strength of this in between space would be a solid way to go. Each of these kids move in the world and interact, and they all put on a brave face to the best of their ability. Charlie is the only one incapable of moving around within the world and he's the one who has the most reason to be scared as he may never wake up. But if you make him into the character who sees these other kids at their most vulnerable and he offers them strength and comfort in those times, you could really run with that. But that doesn't seem to be the direction the show wants to go on, and it probably isn't feasible to have a character fall unconscious every week, but for my money I'd take the in between space scenes over the pointless voice over narration every time.

Either way, Red Band Society continues to be something I'll look forward to watching each week. If it can continue to be funny and moving, then I see no reason not to watch. Even if the deeply emotional parts tend to be delivered in baldfaced and slightly ham-fisted fashion, it's worth it. And so I think I'll try my best to chime in each week for however long the show lasts, or until I stop watching, or until I just don't have anything else to say; whichever comes first really.

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