Preview: Chicago Fire 1×1 (NBC/Sky Living)

Chicago Fire

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC. Starts October 10
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Living. To air this month

You’d have thought that NBC would have learned from its mistakes, wouldn’t you? Not three years ago, Trauma burst onto our screens, a bombastic tale of daring emergency services personnel – in that case, paramedics. That got cancelled. At the same time, it was airing Mercy, a tale of regular-type nurses and their professional and emotional lives. That got cancelled.

A year later, after removing most Law & Order shows from its schedules, it picked up another Law & Order from producer Dick Wolf: Law & Order: Los Angeles. That got cancelled.

Yet, here, bursting onto our screens in less than a week from now is Chicago Fire, a bombastic tale of daring emergency services personnel – in this case, fire-fighters and paramedics – from Dick Wolf. Starring House‘s Jesse Spencer trying his level best not to sound Australian, Justice/The Whole Truth‘s Eamonn Walker doing pretty well as usual at not sounding English and Sex and the City‘s David Eigenberg, who actually is American but still sounding very New York indeed, it revolves around a Chicago fire station and its group of buff manly men, and a couple of tough but nurturing female paramedics.

As with Trauma, there’s a terrible tragedy within the first few minutes that traumatises everyone and sets up tensions between members of the brigade. Also as with Trauma, there’s a newbie who needs to learn the ropes, there’s inter-staff sexual tension, one of the fire crew is hooked on drugs and everything comes all right in the end.

In fact, the only thing in Chicago Fire that’s new or different from not just Trauma but also more or less any other TV show you’ve ever seen is a lesbian, a silent cameo by Rahm Emanuel and firemen getting their tops off a lot. I understand that’s in the job description, though.

Here’s a trailer:

From renowned, Emmy Award-winning executive producer Dick Wolf (“Law & Order” brand) and creators Derek Haas and Michael Brandt, the writing team behind “3:10 to Yuma,” comes the high-octane drama “Chicago Fire,” – an edge-of-your-seat view into the lives of everyday heroes committed to one of America’s noblest professions. For the firefighters, rescue squad and paramedics of Chicago Firehouse 51, no occupation is more stressful or dangerous, yet so rewarding and exhilarating. These courageous men and women are among the elite who forge headfirst into danger when everyone else is running the other way and whose actions make the difference between life and death.

The pressure to perform on such a high level has a way of taking a personal toll, sometimes putting team members from the Truck and the specially trained Rescue Squad at odds with each other. Despite any differences, this is an extended family, and when it’s “go time,” everyone inside Firehouse 51 knows no other way than to lay it all on the line for each other. When a tragedy claims one of their own, there’s plenty of guilt and blame to go around. Lt. Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer, “House”), in charge of the Truck, tries to carry on, but butts heads with the brash Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney, “The Vampire Diaries”) of the Rescue Squad – and each blames the other for their fallen team member. Adding to the turmoil, Casey, unbeknownst to his colleagues, is in the midst of a separation from Hallie (Teri Reeves, “Three Rivers”).

The firehouse also includes Battalion Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker, “Oz”), a fireman’s fireman who is confronted by important personal decisions, paramedics Gabriela Dawson (Monica Raymund, “The Good Wife”) and Leslie Shay (Lauren German, “Hawaii Five-O”), who share a close bond and team together to face some of the most harrowing situations imaginable, Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett, “Law & Order: SVU”), an academy graduate who is the latest generation in a family of firefighters, and Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg, “Sex and the City”), a seasoned veteran who loses his home to foreclosure and now must uproot his family to move in with his in-laws.

In addition to Wolf, Haas and Brandt, executive producers also include Matt Olmstead (“Breakout Kings”), Joe Chappelle (“The Wire”), Danielle Gelber and Peter Jankowski (“Law & Order” brand). Haas and Brandt wrote the pilot, which was directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (“Homeland”).

“Chicago Fire” is produced by Universal Television and Wolf Films.

Is it any good?
It’s competently made and everything looks nice. There are some action sequences that are almost thrilling.

But it’s blander than bland. Everyone involved seems to have had a charisma bypass. The characters could have been bought from a catalogue of stock types, all of them having been filed in the “terribly earnest” pages at the back. Yet again, women are ‘the other’, significantly in the minority, the ones likely to cock up and are constantly hit upon and ogled. And Jesse Spencer’s American accent is very ill fitting.

Worst of all, there’s almost no plot to mention. It’s just fires! Then more fires! Then things exploding for no reason! Floors collapsing for no reason! So much sound and fury signifying nothing, with zero thrills – there was more excitement in those exclamation marks than the scenes of fire-fighting.

And when it’s time for those awkward character moments, the point where character dynamics could save the day, it’s like watching a facilitation meeting. Ooh, Taylor Kinney doesn’t like Jesse Spencer so he’s going to shun his cooking. Snap!

Suffice it to say, you will be indulging in a fair degree of ‘polychronicity’ if you choose to watch Chicago Fire. Maybe you’ll be surfing the Internet or filling out your tax return. Something interesting anyway.

The only thing that might stop you from staring at something, anything rather than the TV, is the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel making a cameo and Taylor Kinney taking his top off occasionally. But you could easily use both as your iPad wallpaper and achieve the same effect, so don’t watch Chicago Fire especially for Emanuel failing to act convincingly even though he has no lines or Kinney’s occasional disrobing or you’ll be sorely dissatisfied.

So that’s another duff NBC drama not to look forward to. Yey. Except, I said Revolution was rubbish and 10m are watching it. It’s been renewed for another season. So what do I know?

PS To its favour, it is the one show so far set in Chicago that doesn’t involve political corruption. That, at least, is original of it.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

    View all posts