CHICAGO FIRE: Wednesday 10PM on NBC – Change the Channel
Network television doesn’t come more dully generic than NBC’s “new” CHICAGO FIRE, a series that seems to be assembling itself out of old film clips even as you watch it. In its time of need, NBC turned to one of its most prolific and successful producers, Dick Wolf–the man who gave the world the giant Law & Order franchise and all its spin-offs. But there’s a reason why that empire has been reduced to the remnants of what was once SVU, and Chicago Fire suggests that Wolf is still making shows that would have felt routine 10 years ago.
Although Fire is a Wolf Films show, it’s been created, and its pilot written, by the team of Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, whose credits include the scripts for big-budget action movies like 2 Fast 2 Furious, 3:10 To Yuma and Wanted, as well as a Richard Gere/Topher Grace vehicle called The Double you’ve never heard of because it went straight to video. With the possible exception of Yuma (which also had other writers involved) all the Brandt/Haas pictures have been carried by their snazzy production values, and that doesn’t work on television. Forced to rely on characters, plot and dialogue this time, the only thing distinctive about their writing is its utter blandness.
The setting, as you might expect, is a Chicago firehouse, shared by a conventional fire truck unit, a rescue squad, and paramedics. (It’s essentially Third Watch, which NBC put on the air in 1999, minus the cops). Do the senior guys from the fire truck and the rescue squad–Casey (Jesse Spencer) and Severeide (Taylor Kinney)–have macho clashes with each other? Why yes they do. And do they put their issues behind them when they have to save each others’ lives and the lives of others in a fire? You bet. Meanwhile, there’s also a new guy in the person of Mills (Charlie Barnett), and a veteran who’s been thinking of transferring somewhere easier but who’ll really never leave–that would be Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker). The women consist of 2 gorgeous paramedics, Shay (Lauren German) and Dawson (Monica Raymund), plus Chief Fitori (Merle Dandridge), who’s having an illicit affair. (Shay may be a lesbian, or it may have been a shtick to razz the new guy in the pilot.) One guy has a crumbling marriage he’s keeping secret, another has a medical issue he’s keeping secret, another is losing his house and has actually let people know about it.
In the post-Rescue Me universe, a show just can’t get away with portraying firefighters as conflicted yet noble icons. The actors are competent, it’s not their fault, but there isn’t one interesting character on Chicago Fire, not one sharp line of dialogue or plot turn that would make a viewer want to tune in again to see more. This being a pilot, there’s a big fire sequence midway through (the professional direction is by vet Jeffrey Nachmanoff), but it’s not all that much more spectacular than the kind of set-piece Rescue Me managed in every couple of episodes.
NBC is slotting Chicago Fire after the fading SVU on Wednesday nights (and as bad as SVU has been doing lately, historically it’s been an even worse performer when not airing at 10PM). Normally one would think that as a fresh show, it could be reasonable competition for CBS’s aging CSI in the timeslot, but CSI was rejuvenated by the arrivals of Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue last season, and the blood is pumping in its veins (and all over its victims) again; of the 2, Chicago Fire feels like the one that’s been on the air already for a dozen years. (The show could well be eaten alive by the female-skewing Nashville on ABC.) For a network that’s supposed to be trying to prove that it’s still vital and creative, Chicago Fire is the worst possible message to send audiences and the creative community. It’s already been burnt to a cinder.