By Peter Sells
Oct. 15, 2012, Toronto - Did anyone out there happen to catch the premier episode of Chicago Fire last Wednesday evening? I’m not a big fan of formula TV, so there have been many cop, lawyer and medical shows that have passed me by over the years. However, probably like a lot of you (at least the older ones), I watched Emergency every day after school. I saw Backdraft in the theatre the week it opened, and accepted it for what it was – an action movie. I was disappointed in that the first big fire movie was, in essence, a murder mystery, but the interactions among the firefighters in the hall and on the trucks were real to me.
By Peter Sells
Then, Third Watch: I think I gave it one episode. I didn’t see Ladder 49 because I can’t stand John Travolta. By all accounts, Rescue Me was the most realistic portrayal of fire hall culture, but it came along (on basic cable) just as I was starting my masters degree, so there was no TV for me for a couple of years, even if I could have pried the remote away from my kids. I might buy the series on DVD one day.
Now we have Chicago Fire. I’m sure the premier date was no coincidence, being Fire Prevention Week and the anniversary week of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire; but there was no mention of this in any promos that I saw, just the usual snippets of action sequences. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my review.
Chicago Fire (a.k.a. Son of Backdraft) is a fast-paced, very watchable hour of stock characters facing danger and personal challenges with gritty determination, requisite guy-nods and the occasional Neanderthal grunt. The cliché rookie’s first day worked well as a means to introduce the characters to the audience and set up the main social dynamics among the ensemble. The technical catch-22 of showing realistic interior fire scenes that are visible and relatively clear of smoke demands a necessary suspension of disbelief by informed viewers (firefighters), but the properly garbled audio communications give back some of the sensory deprivation we all have experienced. The command structure, on-scene decision making and most of the task-level work is accurately depicted. I could fill pages with safety violations, but many of them are also ultimately realistic.
A show like this will be driven by characters and good scripts. Here are some things to watch for in upcoming episodes, that were set up in the premier:
• The truck/squad animosity will become more of a rivalry among comrades, under the leadership of the battalion chief. They will re-discover that they are stronger together than they are apart.
• The illicit drug use by one firefighter obviously has a back-story, and at some point his platonic medic girlfriend will get caught as his supplier.
• The unauthorized medical procedure performed by one of the medics will be a story arc for maybe half of the season.
• What is the back-story behind the scars on the battalion chief’s back? I like this character; the writers are giving him some solid leadership opportunities.
• On the flipside, what is up with the older captain’s decision making? How long will they cover for him and what will be the precipitating event when it all comes crashing down?
The cameo appearance by real-life Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was a nice touch. It guaranteed that the real CFD can’t walk away from the image of the organization as portrayed in the show. I’m going to keep watching this, until it either gets as stupid as Third Watch or as boring and predictable as the cop shows.