Ryan Murphy is one of the most successful, TV producers in the United States right now. He along with his producing partners, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear, have created another new series. The trio have worked together on American Horror Story and Feud. This is the first series created by all three of them and so far is the weakest. Conceptually, it’s weak because at the end of the day, it’s just another cop show. It leans more on the first responders, the paramedics and the firefighters, those who often have to affect daring and immediate rescues. Unfortunately, NBC’s Third Watch (1999), NBC’s Chicago Fire (2012) and USA’s Sirens (2014) beat this show to the punch. The only difference is that this series is set in Los Angeles, whereas the others were set in the Midwest or the east coast. This show though still can’t help but feel derivative. American Horror Story and Feud feel like unique creations onto themselves that challenge the genres they’re in, but this series feels like a million other procedural shows. There’s hardly anything fresh about it.
The series ostensibly follows three people. Connie Britton (American Horror Story and Friday Night Lights) plays Abby Clark, a 9-1-1 operator and dispatcher. Peter Krause (Parenthood and Six Feet Under) plays Bobby Nash, a firefighter who leads his station, and Angela Bassett (American Horror Story and The Rosa Parks Story) plays Athena Grant, a police officer who is constantly running into Bobby and his team as they probably work the same area of L.A.
As actors, each one gets a lot to handle. Abby’s mom has Alzheimer’s. Bobby is an alcoholic who is sober and has been reinstated to the L.A. Fire Department, and Athena’s husband and father to her two children, Michael Grant, played by Rockmond Dunbar, just came out as gay. All of those things are all quite compelling, but, as rendered so far could come across as just a big mess, getting lost in the shuffle. At least, the stories feel lost in the first episode. The second episode does a better job of focusing things.
Chicago Fire typically deals with one case that dominates the episode and has reverberations for the entire cast. This show rapidly moves from one, crazy 9-1-1 call to the next. This might change as the series goes along because the first episode has a pacing to it that feels too fast and too herky-jerky, though that’s typical for Murphy and Falchuk. Sometimes, that pacing can work like with Nip/Tuck for example. Other times, that pacing can sink a show like with Scream Queens, as another example.
It seems odd that Britton would leave the TV series Nashville, which afforded her so much, and come to this series where she’s behind a computer screen the whole time taking phone calls. I hope the show invites us more into her character’s life outside the 9-1-1 dispatch because other wise Abby really has not much to do. The second episode does examine a potential dating life for her and her making connections to one member of Bobby’s team, a young and brash firefighter named Buck, played by Oliver Stark (Into the Badlands), but even those connections feel contrived.
Abby can’t be like Patterson from Blindspot or Cisco from The Flash. Patterson and Cisco also sit behind computer screens and act like dispatchers, but they interact more with the other characters. Abby, on the other hand, is more isolated. It just seems like instead of a 9-1-1 dispatcher, Abby should have been a police dispatcher, which would involve her more directly in the action. Otherwise, we need to see more of her personal life because at present it’s just dead-ends with her.
Bobby seems like a character who’s going to deal more with his Catholic guilt. He hasn’t identified as Catholic, but he is seen inside a priest’s confessional. His first episode has him dealing with Buck who is brash and cocky. There might be parallels between Bobby and Buck, but, even so, the show was beaten to the punch by CBS’ S.W.A.T., which premiered last year and had that same dynamic between Hondo and Jim Street. Somehow, unlike Jim Street, Buck comes across as more gross and sleazy.
Finally, Athena has to deal with her husband’s homosexuality. Last year, Bassett played another character who has to deal with a family member’s gay identity. Bassett guest starred in the Emmy-winning Master of None in the episode titled “Thanksgiving.” Bassett played Catherine, the mother to Denise who revealed being a lesbian. The problem with that episode, which might be repeated here, is it tells the story of a gay person through the eyes of the person who isn’t gay, which is fine, but it limits the expression of homosexuality to the periphery.
Rockmond Dunbar (Prison Break and Soul Food) plays Athena’s gay husband, Michael. This is not the first time Dunbar has played a gay character. He’s also starred in Patrik-Ian Polk’s Punks (2000) and Maurice Jamal’s Dirty Laundry (2007). Both were independent films that only got very limited releases. For many, this will be the first time seeing him in his role. Hopefully, the show won’t shunt him to the side, but it would have been more interesting to have Athena be the one to come out the closet.
Most of what these police procedural shows lack is a gay police officer or gay first responder. Chicago Fire briefly had that with a lesbian paramedic on that show, but that character was unfortunately killed off. Sirens also had a gay paramedic. Yet, a show that features an openly gay cop or openly gay firefighter as the lead character is still not yet been brought to us. Murphy and Falchuk were the likely candidates to bring that to us, but even they didn’t cross that divide.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 9PM on FOX.