Dear FOX Executives,
My social media news feed now blows up on Wednesday nights, and you’re to blame. That’s when you air “Red Band Society,” your drama about teens with life threatening diseases living in a children’s hospital. You see, most of my friends on social media are adults who, like me, are survivors of some pretty horrendous diseases we had as teenagers. Our youths revolved around hospitals and illnesses and the constant threat of death. Honestly, the entire experience for me was so traumatizing that I can only recall bits and pieces of an entire decade of my life. (Shameless plug – what I could recall, I wrote about in The Spider and the Wasp. It’s the funniest book about being traumatized you’ll ever read.)
But if there’s one thing we all learned from being sick teens, it’s not to judge when you’re so imperfect yourself. We just have some issues with the way you present life as a sick teenager. As the self-appointed representative of the group, what we want to do is offer some constructive criticisms that can help turn your show from being less “Hospital 90210” and more “Mad Men,” if you catch our drift.
Okay, first let me start by saying we recognize that some measure of artistic license must be granted for any TV show. I’m talking about the kid in the coma narrating, the hospital that doubles as an Extended Stay America, and the insurance companies that don’t complain about paying for it. But barring an M. Night Shyamalan-worthy twist at the end of the season where we find out that the kids are all in a psych hospital with severe hypochondria, you have an Emmy-winning show if you just let us advise you on the first dozen details you missed about being a teenager in a children’s hospital
- First and foremost, none of the kids have IVs! Dudes, you simply can’t be a dying teenager without at least one IV in your arm, hand, or chest. Most of us had two to three tubes stuck in us. We’d be carting around IV poles with two pumps on them, tubes hanging out everywhere and occluded lines setting off alarms every five minutes – the place sounded like a carnival for the tone-deaf. Add a lot of IVs and some laughs as the tubes catch on things and rip out of their arms.
- These kids have way too much energy. Even in TV-land we can’t expect life threatening diseases to give these kids the night off, can we? And then there’s the treatment-induced sleep deprivation from when the nurses have to come in every four hours around the clock to take vital signs. Tell the actors they can only get three hours of sleep a night when they’re filming, and they’ll look much more realistic.
- The kid in the coma – say wha? He has no IVs (see above), no feeding tube, no ventilator, his hair is perfect, and he’s dressed in his PJs. Have you ever seen a person in a coma? They look terrible. Take the young actor out back and rough him up real good for the sake of the art. Tell him it’s what they did to get De Niro looking right for Taxi Driver. Then throw him back in the bed half-naked and tell him to take a good, long shit in it. Add a tube down the throat, one in his chest, and two in his arms, and now we’re talking coma, baby!
- The snotty cheerleader? Not a chance. It only takes a few days of needing help to go to the bathroom for a teenager to adjust his or her attitude problems. Make her a little nicer.
- Get rid of 2/3rds of the cast each week to more accurately simulate the revolving door that is a pediatric ward. The first 45 minutes of each show can begin with the kids introducing themselves to each other, while wondering what happened to the kids they were friends with last week.
- More talk from the kids about how they don’t care if they die, they just want to go home. Aim for the right pathos, though, like that Replicant’s speech at the end of Blade Runner. You’ll be bringing the Emmys home in boxes!
- Food? Schmood! Everybody’s NPO and being fed through their IVs! (See above.) More talk about what they’re going to eat when their weeks or months of being NPO are over.
- Introduce a teenager with Crohn’s disease who talks about how he’s going to kill himself if he has to get a colostomy bag. Have all the nurses tell him that the girls will still find him attractive.
- Special episode: All the kids are excited when guest star and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter makes a visit to their ward, but end up disappointed when he only visits the kid with cancer. End the episode with the kids talking about how bullshit it is that their diseases aren’t popular.
- Speaking of the teen with cancer, he still has his eyebrows. Please fix that, because he looks like Lex Luthor and he’s freaking us out.
- Add some mystery! A kid stays in his room and screams in pain for the entire episode. All the teens sit around trying to figure out what went wrong. Or you could have a bunch of medical staff rush into a kid’s room at 3 a.m. and wheel him off, and he’s never seen again. All the teens sit around trying to figure out what went wrong.
- One last thing… boys and girls in the same room? Seriously, my FOX homeboys? Let me tell you something: No matter how sick I was as a teen, some parts of me still worked, and the nurses knew that. Separate rooms, please!
Trust me when I say I could add another dozen details, but I don’t want you FOX executives to be discouraged in your efforts to capture the drama that is life as a sick teenager. It’s just that you’re claiming Red Band Society is “based on a true story,” but looking at the show makes me wonder if you also think the same claim could be made for Star Wars. So please don’t mistake my constructive criticisms as trying to mask some sort of disappointment I may have at the glorification of horrific childhood experiences. That would be inappropriate of me to do, kind of like trying to make a buck off of some anonymous child’s nightmares.
Matt Haarington, MPH, MSHI is an advisor on public policy and health care issues for Social Justice Solutions. He is the author of The Spider and the Wasp, which is the funniest book you’ll ever read about being traumatized.
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