Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chicago Fire burns

The television airwaves are flooded with police officers, doctors, and lawyers. It seems only a matter of time until fire fighters join their ranks. Sure, we had the cable series Rescue Me, but when was the last time those who put out the blazes found success on the broadcast networks? If it has ever happened, it certainly did so before my time. NBC tries its hand at making it work this week with Chicago Fire.

Now, writers of shows featuring doctors, lawyers, and cops have it easy. They can effortlessly slide into a procedural where there is a mystery or case that must be solved, and the characters can spend an hour doing so. While there are fires that require lots of time to put out (think: the forest variety), many of the incidents these brave men and women deal with just will not fill up an entire episode. Sure, it might take an hour to actually put the fire out in reality, but much of that would not make engaging television week after week. I'm sorry, because it's a noble job and those who do it deserve massive amounts of respect and credit, but it's true.

So Chicago Fire doesn't try to go down this road. Instead, it reaches for soapy drama, albeit in a slightly less sensitive way, which should appeal to male viewers more than many other soapy dramas on TV. The focus is the interaction between the characters, the emotions they must deal with, and how their lives play out. This makes for a great "Pilot," and could prove to be a highly watchable series.

At the center of Chicago Fire are Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer, House) and Kelly Serveride (Taylor Kinney, The Vampire Diaries). Apologies if I get the details of this wrong after only one episode, as I am going by first impressions, and admittedly don't know a lot about how fire teams operate. Matt leads what seems to be the squad we would think of as the "normal" firemen, who pull people out of buildings and extinguish the flames. Kelly is in charge of a small group that do daring rescue operations. There is some obvious clash between the groups, especially the leaders.

Now, what caused this rift isn't clear. There is definitely some pain felt from the loss of a comrade a month ago, shown in the opening scene. But why Kelly seems to hate Matt isn't completely obvious, and while Matt tries to extend the olive branch, it takes another near tragedy for Kelly to even think about accepting it. This is great drama, of course, handled quite well by two fully capable leading men. Even if the specifics aren't understood (yet), one can appreciate the sentiment.

Spencer is quite surprising with an American accent. He does it well enough, to be sure, but for those who spent so long watching him on House, there will definitely be an adjustment period. Kinney cranks up the talent level a notch from his time as a werewolf, believable and solid.

There are also a number of other characters in the series. Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker, Kings) mostly leaves Kelly and Matt alone, but demands that they don't allow anger to fester. A pair of EMTs (Monica Raymond, Lie to Me, and Lauren German, Hawaii Five-0) stick together and try to restore confidence after a perceived mistake is made. Peter (Charlie Barnett) is the new guy who has yet to decide which squad he wants to be in, though if that choice is left entirely up to him isn't made clear. Christopher (David Eigenberg, Sex and the City) likes to cook and keep up on the news, providing heart at the station. Otis (Yuri Sardarov) would like his teammates to stop calling his Otis and learn his real name, hoping that Peter will soon be the new Otis. And Mouch (Christian Stolte, Prison Break) has a secret that Matt is tired of covering for.

This is a good mix of personalities, providing plenty of fodder for many a story, and without a weak link among them. It sets up Chicago Fire perfectly to be a more masculine, male-centric version of Grey's Anatomy, and that's what it should go for. The first episode has humor, and makes viewers quickly care about the characters. There's also the excitement of the actual fire fighting, which itself proves a good draw. Plus, a quick cameo by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a nice way to kick things off.

The only complaint I have about the "Pilot" is the little tidbits of Matt's personal life. We find out he's been involved with young doctor Hallie Thomas (Teri Reeves, Battleground), but they are secretly living apart because she's not ready to start a family, and he is. While there will surely be romance on the series, these scenes seem superfluous and separate from the rest of the episode. Maybe that is the point, to show another side of Matt's life, but it just doesn't seem needed, at least not yet.

Overall, a good first effort that has the possibility to run awhile and be fairly popular. Chicago Fire is worth checking out. It airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

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