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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Red Band Society deals with illness, injury, eating disorders, drug use, and other serious issues in an uplifting way. Teens face the realities of life and death by leaning on each other, and their kinship overshadows differences that normally divide this age group. Adults are strong role models who put the kids' needs first. A main character narrates the story from a coma. Teens break some rules in mild shows of rebellion such as smoking and drinking in the hospital, and the consequences are negligible. Strong language ("bitch," "ass," "hell") is a concern, and some encounters between teens turn physical with making out and some partial nudity (girls in bras, for instance), but no sex. This fantastic series has excellent messages about perseverance, friendship, and conquering adversity.
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What's the story?
RED BAND SOCIETY is a drama series based on a true story about a group of teens who share their ups and downs as long-term hospital patients. At the group's center is Leo (Charlie Rowe), a cancer survivor who becomes an unexpected mentor to his new roommate, Jordi (Nolan Sotillo), when Jordi arrives to start a similar course of treatment. Leo's friend Dash (Astro) refuses to let cystic fibrosis dampen his zest for life and often is the ringleader in planning fun for the group. Despite coping with an eating disorder, Emma (Ciara Bravo) continues an on-again, off-again relationship with Leo, but it's complicated by the arrival of Kara (Zoe Levin), whose heart condition inspires a change of attitude for this long-time mean girl. And then there's Charlie (Griffin Gluck), who narrates the story from a coma but manages to touch the lives of his ward mates nonetheless. Overseeing the group are the sharp-tongued-but-kind-hearted Nurse Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and compassionate pediatric surgeon Dr. McAndrew (Dave Annable).
Is it any good?
Red Band Society is an uplifting reminder of the indomitable human spirit, and the fact that its message is portrayed by teens makes it all the more exceptional. These characters are far from perfect angels, and each battles his or her own demons -- both physical and emotional -- as the story progresses. But surprisingly that doesn't dampen their appeal; instead it makes them more relatable as they muddle through not only the normal coming-of-age tragedies and joys but also the uncertainties of fighting for their lives at the same time. It's tough to say which is the more positive message: that the kids never give in to self-pity or helplessness or that they use their common circumstances to overcome differences and form unexpected bonds that see them through the tough times.
With the likes of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Television and Emmy winner Spencer on board, it's tough to say where this series could go astray. The story will move you, and the cast's performances are inspired. And, although their connections are rooted in their common life battles, the nitty-gritty of the hospital experience and treatment plans takes a backseat to the teens' relationships with each other and with their compassionate mentors. That said, be sure your kids can handle the implications of the characters' situations -- and their sometimes age-inappropriate behavior with regard to smoking, drinking, and physical encounters -- before you tune in with them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the characters' struggles compare to their kids' own. Do the teens' relationships seem real? To what degree are your tweens' friends integral to their ability to conquer challenges?
Are social castes real in your tweens' experience? How malleable are titles such as "jock," "popular," and "nerd"? Do any opportunities exist to challenge these definitions?
What role do mentors play in your success? Why are good role models important to have? Who are some of your tweens' role models? What is it about them that they'd like to emulate?
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