Review:  ‘Red Band Society’ implants ‘Breakfast Club’ into ‘House’

Griffin Gluck and Octavia Spencer in "Red Band Society."
( Alex Martinez / FOX)
Los Angeles Times Television Critic

“Red Band Society,” which premieres Wednesday on Fox, takes place in the teen ward of a shiny L.A. hospital — the “division of adolescent medicine,” with side trips to the eating disorders wing. Its lesson, to paraphrase the songwriter, is that despite all the amputation, or the pulmonary condition or the heart disease, you could just dance to that rock ‘n’ roll station.

The show is a remake of the 2011 Catalan series “Polseres Vermelles,” or “Red Bracelets,” whose creator Albert Espinosa more or less grew up in a hospital, leaving behind a leg, a lung and part of his liver. He’s still alive at 40 and busier than any 10 people you know, put together.

It is in many ways a medical version of “The Breakfast Club,” a comparison the producers themselves have made but which will be obvious to anyone who has ever seen “The Breakfast Club”: Enforced camaraderie among initially antagonistic types leads to mutual understanding and united action as they discover their commonalities, their common enemies. And as in “The Breakfast Club,” these kids are, by dint of their conditions, both outsiders and cooler than you.

Espinosa’s version, at least some of which may be found online with English subtitles, is humbler and quieter than the remake, the actors younger and less aggressively attractive; the characters more like kids in what, apart from their acquaintance with suffering and proximity to death, they don’t know and what they think they know about life. But many details, scenes and even character names have been imported straight into the new version, written by Margaret Nagle (who also wrote the TV movie “Warm Springs,” about Franklin Roosevelt’s polio clinic).


As in the original, the series is narrated by a boy in a coma, here called Charlie (Griffin Gluck). He is conscious of his surroundings, but he’s also granted psychic run of the hospital: He sees all, knows all; he’s the designated deep thinker and ironist.

He also inhabits a tastefully appointed limbo, where he can host other characters hovering between life and death. He also appears to be able to break wind at will, which suggests a possible method of communication I can only pray someone here will recognize.

Not confined to their beds, or their rooms, or, evidently, the hospital are Leo (Charlie Rowe), who has lost a leg to cancer and is the senior member of this junior league; newcomer Jordi (Nolan Sotillo), about to lose a leg himself; Emma (Ciara Bravo), who is anorexic (and stylish as hell); and Dash (Astro), who has cystic fibrosis and brings the party to the party.

Also new to the ward is Kare (Zoe Levin), a mean-girl cheerleader with heart trouble. “How do you tell the girl who needs a heart that she never really had one to begin with?” asks Charlie, but soon enough we feel her pain.

The adult presences are sympathetic ones. Though a barista writes “scary bitch” on her to-go cup, Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer, Oscar winner) is really an old softy. Handsome Dr. McAndrew (Dave Annable), whom Jordi has hand-picked to amputate his leg, is a young softy. Indeed, Jordi, who is described as “like, 14,” seems to be in charge of the whole business and without a penny to pay for it.

Rich, in-residence hypochondriac (Griffin Dunne), is both an old softy and an old hippie. None appear to put too fine a point on protocol or the law. (Mandy Moore, not in the pilot, will be coming on as another doctor, degree of softness as yet unknown.)

As an American entertainment — with Steven Spielberg attached as executive producer yet — it not surprisingly shies away from the mundane indignities of hospital life and the less-picturesque symptoms of disease. But if it plays havoc with the realities of medical practice, well, so did “House.”

And to glamorize, sanitize and romanticize illness is, after all, an old Hollywood tradition; and this is a show with a target audience for whom even death, in soft enough focus, can constitute a sort of wish fulfillment. “They’ll love me when I’m gone” — who didn’t have that thought sometime ‘twixt 12 and 20?


Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd


‘Red Band Society’

Where: Fox

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday


Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)