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'Red Band Society' review: Its heart's in the right place

From left, Nolan Sotillo and Charlie Rowe in

From left, Nolan Sotillo and Charlie Rowe in "Red Band Society." Credit: Fox / Annette Brown

THE SHOW "Red Band Society"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The pediatric ward at Ocean Park Hospital is run by Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer), a no-nonsense type who has to keep some of her high-spirited teen patients in line -- like Leo (Charlie Rowe), a cancer patient, Dash (Astro, from "The X Factor"), who has cystic fibrosis, and newcomer, Jordi Palacios, who wants renowned surgeon Dr. Jack McAndrew (Dave Annable) to perform his surgery. And then, there is 12-year-old Charlie, also the narrator (Griffin Gluck). He's in a coma, but can hear everything that's going on around him -- and takes a merciless ribbing from another newcomer to the hospital wing, cheerleader Kara (Zoe Levin). Sad? Maybe, but Jordi speaks for his new friends, and himself, when he observes: "Everyone thinks that when you go to a hospital, life stops. But it's just the opposite -- life starts."

MY SAY With its heart in the right place, and head somewhere else, "Red Band Society" is good-natured, well-meaning, life-affirming and . . . off-key. That's a shame for a couple of reasons, foremost the autobiographical underpinnings of "Society," which are not incidental. Creator Margaret Nagle told writers at the recent TV Critics tour that "I had a brother who was in a coma, and I grew up in pediatric hospitals, and so I found them to be the most uplifting, and the most hilarious places -- the black humor, the fun, the getting to know the kids that you would never know in any other situation." That may certainly be her experience -- her brother recovered -- but hardly everyone's. But most people who have had the good fortune to have never stepped into a pediatric ward may have other impressions altogether. "Society" is a dramedy with desperately sad underpinnings -- young adults in crisis, who have lost limbs or are facing mortal illnesses. The pilot acknowledges that, then promptly looks on the bright side by morphing into a teen TV series with all the recognizable trappings.

BOTTOM LINE This is an extremely tough balancing act or -- back to the musical analogy -- this is a show where the notes have to play exactly right. They don't here.


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