I’m not sure why American TV thinks Chicago is mainly about the emergency services, but after the likes of ER, Chicago Hope and The Chicago Code comes Chicago Fire, following the theme that residents of the city need saving an awful lot. As you may have guessed, the series follows a group of firefighters, in this case the men and women of Firehouse 51.
The team includes Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer), who leads the team but is dealing with relationship problems and a mother who’s locked up for killing his father. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) meanwhile has become addicted to painkillers and is trying to cover this up, partly because if he has the surgery that could sort out his pain problem, he could end up behind a desk.
Then there are paramedics Gabriela (Monica Raymund) and Leslie (Lauren German). Gabriela finds herself involved in a love triangle with Matthew and rookie firefighter Peter (Charlie Bartlett), while the lesbian Leslie unexpectedly discovers she may have to deal with the patter of little feet.
These are people who have so many issues that it’s a wonder they find time to fight any fires. Indeed if there’s a major problem with this first season, it’s that they don’t. For a show called Chicago Fire, there’s surprisingly little fighting of fires. Even adding in dealing with car crashes, paramedic services and various other emergency situations, it often feels like there should be doing more derring-do, rather than people having lots of angst about their personal problems.
Of course this is far from the first emergency service show that’s put the emotional drama before the crises (in Grey’s Anatomy it’s a miracle any patients survive considering how complicated the lives of the doctors are and how much time they have to spend crying about it in hallways). However with Chicago Fire the balance sometimes tips too far away from the fires, while what it’s replaced with is certainly dramatic but not always that exciting.
It’s not a deal-breaker for the show as it’s certainly watchable, but it’s tough to escape the sense that the series is really going to have to deal with getting the balance right in Season 2. When the Chicago Fire is good it’s great, but there are times when it spends ages dealing with a plotline that’s not as interesting as the series seems to think it is, such as Matthew’s rather OTT battle with a crooked cop. Even Kelly’s drug problem becomes slightly tiring and repetitive.
Occasionally the series does something extremely well, such as the fallout from one of the firemen leaving someone to die, or the re-emergence of one of Leslie’s ex-girlfriends. These moments do a great job of showing what Chicago Fire could be.
It’s also clear that the actors are all pretty good, and you feel that with slightly stronger writing they have the ability to make this a great show rather than just an okay one. There’s a vast amount of potential in Chicago Fire and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was reviewing Season 3 or 4 and saying this is an excellent series, but while Season 1 sets up the building blocks, it never fully comes into its own. It certainly doesn’t hope that much of the cast is easy of the eye, especially the hunky Taylor Kinney and the handsome Jesse Spencer (the Aussie actor makes up for his occasionally dodgy American actor with his hotness).
With Season 2 just starting, it may be worth catching up with these episodes in the hope it can find a better balance overall as the series continues. However with these episodes, be prepared for a very up and down ride, careering from some really good drama to quite a lot of rather tedious emotional incontinence. When it’s good it’s great, but while rarely bad, a lot of the time Chicago Fire feels like it could be better.
Overall Verdict: Chicago Fire shows a lot of potential, but across these first 24 episodes it often spends too much time on not particularly interesting character drama and not enough on fighting fires in Chicago.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac