The new TV season stumbles out of the gate with two ambitious but flawed series opening on Wednesday night.
Red Band Society (9 p.m. on Fox29) is a teen sobber about the live-in pediatric patients at Ocean Park Hospital in Los Angeles. They're in there with a variety of grave diseases, including one boy (I kid you not) in a coma. And he has the best lines in the show (again, not kidding)!
A screaming Octavia Spencer plays the Nurse Ratched of the wing, but underneath that gruff exterior, you can just tell she has a heart of butter.
Certainly discipline seems a bit lax. The kids smoke cigarettes and marijuana on the floor. Some even go on a beer run in a borrowed BMW (even though the oldest of them appears to be about 15).
But you have to cut them some slack. Did we mention they're really, really sick? One refers to his upcoming amputation as "a real conversation-killer."
You'd never know they were ill from the snarky and defiant way they talk. And though they're too cool to show it, these little troupers are super-loyal to each other.
Red Band Society (the name comes from their hospital bracelets) aims for the poignancy of the runaway teen bestseller The Fault in Our Stars, but the TV project is too transparent in the way it goes about tugging on your sympathies.
Then again, did you really expect a show about sick kids to be anything but emotionally manipulative?
The Mysteries of Laura, which debuts an hour later on NBC10, also piles the premise on a little thick.
Debra Messing plays an NYPD homicide detective who is crazy calm - almost flippant - in a shootout. The only thing that puts her on DEFCON 4 is when her boys' preschool calls, because she knows what kind of wanton destruction her twins are capable of. They're Dennis the Menace squared.
But cartoonishly bouncy music is playing constantly to let us know we're not to be taking any of this seriously. Hmmm, a female cop comedy/mystery? What is this supposed to remind us of?
The script conveniently makes the connection for us. Upon meeting our plucky detective, a snooty matron trills, "A middle aged policewoman. Just like Rizzoli. I love that."
Of course - TNT's popular Rizzoli & Isles. We knew the mood seemed familiar.
It's hard to figure out this cop's jurisdiction, though. She shoots a perp on the Brooklyn promenade, but her first case is a locked-room murder at a mansion in the remote suburb of Bedford. Where exactly is the Second Precinct?
NBC seems determined to make Messing (Will & Grace, Smash) a star, even if it kills us. But she's utterly unconvincing in both modes of Laura's character: the cop with a mean left hook and the frazzled mom.
To make matters worse, Josh Lucas (Stealth) plays the other lead, Laura's on-again, off-again husband who also happens to be a homicide officer. Honestly, to find two actors less believable as an NYPD couple, NBC would have to have held casting sessions off-planet.
On the plus side, The Mysteries of Laura, which assumes its regular 8 p.m. slot next week, has really snappy writing. It's good enough, in fact, to make this hour quite entertaining, but only if you can put aside the show's overt artificiality, which sits there like an elephant in the precinct house.
Red Band Society
9 p.m. Wednesday on Fox29
The Mysteries of Laura
10 p.m. Wednesday