I, like many a Chronic, get excited whenever I hear that a story that <MayPossiblyKindaSorta> sounds like mine will be featured on TV. So, when I heard that the Fox network was developing a show that some critics were touting as “Glee in a hospital,” I thought, Yay! I will definitely be watching that. Red Band Society? Sign me up.
Then, in last weekend’s Washington Post Opinions page, I read an article, coincidentally written by a young woman with POTS, that changed my mind about my excitement. Pretty soon, this article was popping up on my Facebook newsfeed, and I even shared it myself (go to www.facebook.com/iamchronicallywell to see).
Lillie Lainoff very eloquently points out that not all press is good press.
As Lainoff notes the obvious in her article, I’m not going to focus on that here. We all know that television hospitals are a) way nicer than anything in real life, b) stocked with good looking doctors and tough-love nurses who stick you with a needle for your own good but make up for it with pizza later, and c) full of strangely well-looking sick people.
It’s unrealistic. We get it.
Lainoff continues, making some valid points about how this year, young adult media (books, movies, and now TV shows) has really taken glorifying illness to new heights, and that that upsets her. She also implies that she’s conflicted about this, because of course, as Chronics, we are taught to believe that if we just keep a positive attitude, we can overcome all odds.
Tricky. I agree.
Where does The Red Band Society fit in to all of this?
Now that I’ve watched it, I feel that I share some of Lillie Lainoff’s frustrations, most notably about that end line, “Everyone thinks that when you go to a hospital, life stops. But it’s just the opposite. Life starts.” It’s just the kind of cheesy, mushy, emotional line that hooks some people and turns off the rest. Everyone wants to feel like if they had something life-altering to deal with, they would be able to handle it, and even go the extra mile of smiling while doing so. That’s good, but is this show going to be following the other 360 days of these patients’ lives when that smile is hard to come by?
Here’s the thing: as a Chronic, I felt like ok, this show is unrealistic, and the “illness” part is vastly underplayed. I was bummed that they only had the “standard” TV illnesses portrayed- cancer, eating disorder, vague-unexplained heart problem (*Nic note: To be super clear, I am NOT comparing or attaching any “value” to one type of illness over another. I hate it when that happens. I really just mean that TV only seems to be comfortable portraying these types of illnesses). I guess it would be hard to follow Chronic-illness patients who pop in and out every few weeks for a tune-up.
I said, hard, TV producer people, not impossible.
As a regular old person who watches TV, did I like this show?
I felt like there were a lot of times I sighed heavily for non-illness related reasons.
Like, really, they made the cheerleader a witch? Wow, that’s original. She has a heart problem and the sassy nurse wonders out loud if she even has one? Low blow, and again, I’ve got a bad case of déjà vu. The plan that the kids have for a party is foiled by a no-fun surgeon, but a well-meaning adult who has no fear of facing jail time for serving alcohol to minors shows up in the knick of time to set up a party on the roof? The formulaic set up of this show is what really irks me. And come on, the helipad is not going to be in use all night so that a group of kids can have a bonfire and play guitar? That is a bad case of unrealistic right there, my friends.
When I am judging a new show and debating whether or not I’m going to commit to it, I tend to give it three episodes, assuming that the first one was bearable. My rule of thumb is that the pilot is almost always going to be completely different than the show as a whole (don’t believe me? Watch the pilot of Friends), the second is almost always better, but the third one will tell you where this crazy train is headed.
Will I give The Red Band Society three episodes?
But by then, my favorite unrealistic medical drama, Grey’s Anatomy, will be back on, and I can get my fix with characters I’ve previously invested in.
In case you’re interested, The Red Band Society airs Wednesdays on FOX at 9/8c.
In case you’re Octavia Spencer, Darling, you can do better than a show that calls you a “scary bitch” on a billboard.
In case you’re a writer for this show: Can you please make a statement taking back your opening line that Cheerleading doesn’t matter? I am so very, very tired of people pretending that Cheer is a “less than” sport or even not a sport at all. Why does Cheer not matter but Soccer does (to the boy with cancer?)? If you want to imply that extra-curriculars don’t matter, could you keep it consistent throughout your episode, please? Ok, thanks.