While the premise of Fox’s “Red Band Society” might seem depressing on the surface — the Octavia Spencer dramedy is set in the pediatric ward of a hospital — the show’s producers are aiming for a show that will make you laugh just as much as it makes you cry, treating the hospital as “high school, boarding school and summer camp rolled into one.”
The series focuses on the lives of the hospital’s young inhabitants and the staff members who often serve as their teachers, mentors and surrogate parents in addition to overseeing their medical care.
“Pediatrics goes through age 24 and 85 percent of all kids with any one of these diseases recover,” executive producer Margaret Nagle pointed out at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour on Sunday. “It’s really about that time you spend in the hospital, how it changes you and what you learn… there are serious things that these kids have to face, but this is not a show with a body count.”
Instead of actively trying to be a tearjerker, the cast and producers compare the series to “The Breakfast Club,” thanks to its blend of character-driven drama and levity. “They’re archetypes, they’re defined by who we think they are,” star Wilson Cruz admitted of the similarities between “Red Band” and the ’80s classic. “You’re going to be surprised by who they become to you and who they become to each other.” Cruz said that the series explores what happens when “someone you barely know becomes someone you can’t live without. The show is about inspiring our viewers to take on whatever they’re facing and to latch on the people who are supporting them.”
“It’s definitely as complex and funny as ‘The Breakfast Club,'” Spencer said. “That would make me the principal.” Nagle teased that she’s even pursuing a “Breakfast Club” alum to play a pathologist in an upcoming episode.
But while the show has a decidedly Hughesian flair, Nagle also cited “My So-Called Life,” “Freaks and Geeks” and “Orange is the New Black” as influences — the latter helping inform the show’s non-linear narrative structure, which will flash back to the kids before they entered the hospital, explore the past experiences of the staff members, and follow characters home to meet their families and friends.
“We are going to learn backstories of characters and play around with the timeline… You have to get out of the environment and find out, why are they there? How did they get there?” Nagle said. “The backstories on these adult characters are incredibly rich and layered… they’ve all got relationships with each other as well.” She revealed that Cruz’s orderly character first came into the hospital as a patient who was cared for by Nurse Jackson (Spencer), and that we’ll discover how “she guided his life.”
While it’s based on Spanish drama “Polseres Vermelles,” the series seems like it was fully formed in Nagle’s brain, and the EP is drawing from her own life experience to ensure the show’s authenticity. The first season of “Red Band” is narrated by 12-year-old Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who is in a coma but can still hear the lives of the other patients and staffers going on around him. Nagle’s brother, also called Charlie, was in a coma “for a very long time” when Nagle was a child, so she grew up in children’s hospitals and wanted to shine a light on the fascinating stories and under-appreciated medical personnel populating the halls of a pediatric wing.
“The doctors and the nurses and orderlies in pediatrics, this is something they’re driven to do,” Nagle observed. “Sometimes they’re trying to work out things in their own lives… they bring that into their work.” The show will utilize a “compressed timeframe,” according to Nagle, and the first season will span four months in the hospital. In reality, patients can stay on a pediatric wing for years, or come and go multiple times until they reach 24.
Oscar winner Spencer admitted that she was drawn to the role because, “I wanted to focus on a character I could evolve with. It was the best pilot I’ve ever read… it’s not every day that you get great material. From page one, I was like ‘what is this going to be?’ I was moved, I laughed and cried, I ran the gamut of emotion.” Spencer insisted that “Red Band” is “unlike any procedural hospital show — we’re not a procedural. It’s not the typical drama, the typical comedy, it walks a fine line.”
The actors spent a lot of time visiting actual pediatric hospitals and speaking with the doctors and patients there, and Spencer remarked that many of the children are wise beyond their years because they’ve had to grow up fast when dealing with their illnesses. “A lot of young people are experiencing [this] — what we are doing is showing it isn’t taboo to be sick, you’re still normal, you’re just a different kind of normal,” she pointed out.
“Red Band Society” premieres Wed., Sept. 17 on Fox.