Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reviews - Red Band Society and The Mysteries of Laura


Yes, Fall TV Season begins this week as several shows make their debuts and returns.  I've got my work cut out for me, but I'll try to review and comment on as many shows as I can over the coming weeks, starting tonight with the premiere of two new shows:  FOX's Red Band Society and NBC's The Mysteries of Laura (which technically premieres Sept. 24, but the net gave us a preview tonight).

"Everyone has two stories: the one they want you to know, and the one they don't."

Red Band Society is FOX's new dramedy about a group of rule-bending friends and the adults who mentor them through the ups and downs of adolescence in Los Angeles' Ocean Park Hospital, which the net describes as "provocative, unconventional and unique."  
The series stars Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help), Dave Annable (Brothers & Sisters, 666 Park Avenue) and - in the FOX tradition of launching fresh new stars, a la Glee and Beverly Hills, 90210 - a collection of charismatic young actors including Griffin Gluck (Back in the Game) as Charlie, a 12-year-old coma patient who acts as narrator for the series; Nolan Sotillo as Jordi, who comes to the hospital seeking treatment for his illness; Charlie Rowe as Leo, the group's charming leader;  Astro (The X Factor) as Leo's best friend, the rebellious Dash;  Ciara Bravo (Big Time Rush) as Emma, Leo's sometimes girlfriend who is battling an eating disorder (though she looks really healthy, but picky picky); and Zoe Levin (Arrested Development) as Kara, resident mean girl who may soon have a change of heart - literally and figuratively.

Spencer plays Nurse Jackson, who heads up the children's ward of the hospital and rallies the kids to make the most of their lives, and Annable plays Dr. Jack McAndrew, a top pediatric surgeon treating the young patients. The series' title comes from the red bands the patients wear in solidarity and support of each other and their shared situation.


I was giggling right from the start, which was a good sign, especially since we're dealing with sick kids here. Really great intro to the characters - you got a sense of who they are right from the start and, for those who seemed like horrible people, they made you look forward to their journey to hopefully become better ones.  There's great diversity of race in the cast, but they don't focus on it - nicely taking a page from Shonda Rhimes' playbook (see Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and the soon-to-premiere How To Get Away With Murder).  I think maybe the creators (from Amblin Entertainment - yep, Steven Spielberg's production compnay) are fans of Grey's ... a volunteer (Thomas Ian Nicholas, American Pie, Rookie of the Year), who comes to serenade the kids, played "How to Save Life," GA's anthem.  

The use of voiceover in a series is certainly nothing even remotely new (the aforementioned Glee used it throughout their first season), but I don't mind it here, especially since the narration is coming from a boy who isn't even conscious (for the most part - there do seem to be moments when they work him in awake, like in dream states).  I wonder how many episodes it will be until he (inevitably?) wakes up, and if he does, if he'll continue to narrate (Glee eventually tapered the voiceovers off).

What didn't work for me so much was how the director/cinematographer chose to frame certain shots.  I'm all for originality in filming, and FOX's series tend to have a certain unique look, but RBS way overdid it and too many times it just looked like maybe they didn't know how to properly frame the actors in the shot (off-center, too much space around actors' heads, etc).  It was more often distracting than clever, especially since they did it soooo much.  

I love the fictional hospital setting - if I had a kid who gods-forbid got sick, I would hope they would be treated in a place like this, where the patients could make the rooms their own, really cutting down the look and feel of a hospital.  Plus they seem to be in really good hands (Spencer's character is tough and brash but man, you know she's do anything for these kids).  There's a nice appearance by Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London).  Hope they bring him back.


RBS has nicely and realistically represented the many typical adolescent types:  the bitchy cheerleader, the prissy intellect, the shy new guy, the cool leader (nice commitment by Rowe, who looks to have shaved his head - though not his eyebrows, which chemo would likely have taken, but more picky picky - for the role of cancer-stricken Leo; the character also has one leg, so the actor has that to play with as well).  Though early, you know going forward this group is gonna be a solid unit, like a medically-focused Breakfast Club. 

BOTTOM LINE:  This show has heart and is off to a really solid start.  Sign me up to be a privileged member of the RBS!

Red Band Society airs Wednesdays at 9pm on FOX.

Debra Messing returns for her third NBC series (she previously starred on Will & Grace and Smash) playing the title role of Laura Diamond, a brilliant NYPD homicide detective who fights to find balance between her day job on the streets and her personal life as mother of unruly twin boys (Vincent and Charles Reina) and a cop husband (Josh Lucas, The Firm) she wishes to make her ex, a desire he definitively does not share.
 A proclaimed dramedy, lighter moments come from Laura striving to wrangle - often not to the most success - the many challenges that come from being a modern-day working mom juggling home and work life.  The series co-stars Laz Alonso (Deception) and Janina Gavankar (The Vampire Diaries, The League).

Messing was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon the other night and they showed a clip from the pilot.  Now, I think she is a very funny comedienne who did fantastic work on W&G, and I think she was good on Smash, but from those few moments I saw with her playing a tough-as-nails detective, going in to the show tonight I was cringing.  Castle's Stana Katic plays a believable cop.  So does Law & Order: SVU's Mariska Hargitay.  Ditto for Rizzoli & Isles' Angie Harmon.  But with Messing, I was waiting for her character to break up into snickering after cornering a suspect and threatening to shoot him, as though she were just playing a badass.   I mean, of the two pictures below, which do you buy more?

But I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt by watching the whole hour - even though no active detective would carry a humungous purse while on duty. I appreciate the attempts at humor - example:  Laura gets a 911 call and races to the scene of a crime, where she bitingly dresses down and threatens unimaginable punishment to the perps - her boys, who had covered their classroom walls - and themselves - with pink paint.  But overall the mom moments suit Messing better than the actual crime-solving ones.  The hand-held cam, which is clearly used to create dramatic realness, along with Messing's missing-the-mark delivery of cop talk and gun handling, just make this look like a spoof of cop shows (think Police Squad!)  If this show had gone that route more, I think it would work better.  But because they obviously want us to buy Messing in this role, it doesn't.  Nothing against her; I'm all for actors stretching into new and different types of roles.  Here, I just think she's miscast.  But nice appearance by Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars).

I also don't quite get the title.  The Mysteries of Laura?  I read that this is supposed to be likened to Columbo (hell, Messing wears a trenchcoat and her partner even calls her Columbo), which did have Peter Falk's character being kind of both cop and private detective and solving crimes that were more mystery-oriented, but his crime-solving technique was unique and therefore worked for that kind of setup.  Laura doesn't seem to display anything really original in her technique, so I don't think the title works.  But that's just the tip of what doesn't work for me regarding this show.

BOTTOM LINEGot slightly better toward the end and scenes for the upcoming season look okay, but ultimately failed to arrest my interest to continue watching.

The Mysteries of Laura airs Wednesdays at 8pm on NBC starting Sept. 24.

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