By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol
10:40 PM CDT, October 9, 2012
In "Chicago Fire," the men and women of Firehouse 51 save lives, mourn lost colleagues, and, in the cases of Taylor Kinney and Jesse Spencer, spend a some time shirtless or in tank tops.
Nothing wrong with that.
"Law & Order" mastermind Dick Wolf doesn't blaze any new trails with his latest effort, but at least he's getting out of the courtroom and precinct house. Though there's not anything particularly groundbreaking about "Chicago Fire" (9 p.m. Oct. 10, NBC; 2.5 stars out of 4), Wolf and creators/writers Derek Haas and Michael Brandt are trying to stretch the procedural format with character-driven stories. Sometimes those stories even work.
My real joy in watching, however, has been the Chicago locations. Having a sense of place is important to any drama like this, and "Fire" benefits from being filmed in and around the city. If you're not all that into the fire-of-the-week action elements, you can play "Where was that filmed?" (Co-star Charlie Barnett recently confirmed my suspicion that the eatery run by his character's family is the now-shuttered Salt & Pepper Diner on Lincoln Avenue. I win the round!)
But about those firefighters, rescue workers and paramedics ... Barnett's character, a young firefighter candidate named Peter Mills, serves as the viewers' entree into the fire station much the way Noah Wyle's Dr. John Carter once led viewers into the hospital of another Chicago-set NBC drama, "ER."
Pete, as he's called by the new workmates who haze him, steps into a firehouse divided in Wednesday's premiere. Lt. Matthew Casey (Spencer), who is in charge of the firefighters, and Lt. Kelly Severide (Kinney), in charge of the rescue squad, blame each other for a firefighter's death. Their bickering throws such a pall over the fire house, which is filled with a diverse mix of beautiful young people (Monica Raymund and Lauren German), wise veterans (David Eigenberg and Christian Stolte) and jokers (Joe Minoso and Yuri Sardarov), that Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker of "Oz") has to shut them up.
That's quite a few characters, and those are just the ones at the fire station. Each has his or her own issues, from relationship and financial problems to the need to self-medicate in order to hide an injury. With so many sub plots, along with the characters' weekly displays of bravery, "Fire" never dwells long enough on one character to be effective. Just when you're about to get interested, the writers jump to something else.
The premiere has an explosive action sequence when our heroes try to escape a fire raging in a multistory building, but nothing is likely to get viewers hooked. They might find it worthwhile to stick around, however. Next week's episode kicks off an intriguing story about Casey's run-in with a dirty cop. A touching rescue effort in the same episode is particularly effective at showing us more about Kelly's psyche.
I'm hoping the writers add some breathing room to these scenes and let us get to know the characters properly. Maybe then "Chicago Fire" will light a spark with viewers.
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