There's a reason why medical procedurals are so popular on television: It's hard to beat the built-in drama of the race-against-the-clock battle between life and death that doctors face. Add in the pressure of a burning building about to collapse or a car on the verge of flipping over a bridge after a collision and you get an idea of the extremely engrossing tension laid forth in Chicago Fire.
As the series begins, Firehouse 51 loses a valued member of their team, Andy Darden (Corey Sorenson), when responding to a house fire. The incident raises tensions in the house, particularly between rescue-squad leader Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) and truck-crew lead Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer), who were both close to Darden and blame each other for his death. There's a natural rivalry between these two already based on their positions in the house. Firehouse 51 is one of a select few in the city that have a rescue squad, a group of tough guys who specialize in busting into difficult situations and extracting people in trouble. Not surprisingly, these fellas have a bit of a superiority complex that they hold over the truck team. In addition to these guys, 51's crew also includes an ambulance manned by EMTs Gabriela Dawson (Monica Raymund) and Leslie Shay (Lauren German) and everyone in the house is commanded by Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker), an old-school fireman who garners a lot of respect from his men.
The scenes of the Firehouse 51 teams responding to emergency situations, whether they be fires, car accidents or construction-site disasters, make for some truly great television, especially when shot against the backdrop of recognizable Chicago locations (including a cameo from Rahm Emanuel in the pilot). The tensions in these sequences run so high and the danger is so imminent that it's impossible not to get wrapped up in the drama. When things quiet down, and the characters are left to deal with their personal lives and the politics of the firehouse, the show fails to reel the audience in, though. Part of this is due to everything being laid on so incredibly thick. From broken relationships to foreclosed homes to potentially career-ending injuries, the lives of these characters are so fraught with strife that it's a wonder any of them gets out of bed in the morning. Sure these things are great elements for dramatic storytelling, but there's a lack of humor and heart to balance out the truly dire plot elements. When they're not jumping into the fray, no one seems to be getting any enjoyment out of their job, their life or each other. The heroics of Firehouse 51 are really something to behold, but if the rest of the show doesn't lighten the load a bit, viewers are never going to be able to sit through it long enough to see them.
Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 9pm on NBC.
Read our interview with star Jesse Spencer here.