'Chicago Fire's' smoldering start
'Chicago Fire's' premiere shows its good and bad; time will tell which will dominate
By Rick Markley
Before delving into the premiere of "Chicago Fire," two confessions are in order.
Confession one: I'm a homer — like the local sports announcer who only sees the positives in his home team's play. As a lifelong native of the Chicago area, I like Chicago; I like it a lot.
I've spent time in a good number of cities, and despite its many flaws, Chicago is my favorite; it is my home. Likewise for the Chicago Fire Department, it's the one I look up to and admire as a firefighter.
So on a purely personal level, I want "Chicago Fire" to be a great show. I am in no way an objective observer.
Confession two: I do not watch much television, and when I do it is typically not primetime, network stuff. I'm not the best person to predict whether or not a television show will have mass appeal — or at least enough appeal to keep it from being cancelled.
I do know that after watching the first episode of "Chicago Fire," several things struck me. The first, and in my mind most important, is how little the characters resonated with me.
Although a firefighter, I am far from an expert. I am, however, trained in how to make a good story. Whether it's a book, movie, television program or whatever form a story may take, I look at how much I think about the characters once the story ends.
"Chicago Fire" characters failed to draw me in; I didn't, and still don't, find myself caring about what happens to them. Part of that may be due to the show giving me too much of the characters' back story in the first episode; that may be a normal characteristic of a premiere — I don't watch enough TV to know.
I did appreciate the edgy and somewhat biting nature of the characters' interactions with each other. That came across as authentic Chicago.
If the show takes on a sort of "Grey's Anatomy" feel, where the characters' personal lives are given greater emphasis than their professional lives, well-developed characters will be a must. The opposite, and for me more desirable, approach would be to make the characters' professional lives the focal point.
Focusing on the professional lives is something Executive Producer Dick Wolf did well with his original "Law and Order" show. However, Wolf, in a video clip on NBC's website, says the focus for "Chicago Fire" will be on personal lives with their professional lives as intersecting points; he compared it to "ER" set in a fire station.
From the fireground
Another thing that struck me were the firefighting and EMS scenes. The show's promotional material plays up how much effort went into creating firefighting authenticity; this may be the case.
But, I prefer not to believe that the fire department I look up to has its crew inside burning buildings sans helmets and SCBA. I prefer to believe that the directors didn't want to hide good-looking actors behind facepieces.
I also prefer not to believe that CFD would begin vent, enter and search without doing a 360-degree size up, would approach an MVC without gloves, or would fail to stabilize a victim's spine.
These scenes might be ripped from the pages of firefighter memory, but I hope not. If so, I want to believe they are distant memories and not current practices. Again, I'm an unapologetic homer.
At the end of the day, "Chicago Fire" is a fictional television show, and we shouldn't get too hung up on the authenticity factor. The show did a tremendous job of using special effects to create believable fire scenes.
Visually, the show also does a great job of creating tension and urgency during the fire and EMS scenes. The camera angles, shifting points of view and visual jerkiness of how those scenes were shot gives you a real sense of the in-the-moment adrenalin rush.
That alone may be reason enough to watch.
It doesn't appear that "Chicago Fire" will become another "Trauma," which prompted letters of condemnation from fire and EMS organizations when it was first aired. And that, is a relief.
For me, my love for the city and its fire department are pitted against my inclination not to watch television. To get me, NBC will have to present deep, well-developed characters, something the premiere lacked.
But, I am after all a homer, and will hold out hope for deeper characters while enjoying the very cool action scenes.