September 25, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Chicago Fire”


CHICAGO FIRE:  Tuesday 10PM on NBC

At a time when network programmers’ fingers are ever-jumpier on their cancellation buttons, NBC has done an unusually good job nurturing CHICAGO FIRE into a success.  The show, which mixes firefighting procedural plots with more serialized storylines, got a slow start, but it was noticeably boosted whenever it had a lead-in from The Voice on Wednesdays (the rest of the time, the  lead-in was SVU, which shares super-producer Dick Wolf with Fire but has a shrinking, aging viewership), and it held strong with CBS’s CSI all season.  This year, NBC has moved it to Tuesdays and given it The Voice as a full-time lead-in, and while it’s still not a breakout hit (it won its hour last night against Person of Interest, but only by 0.4 despite its much higher lead-in), it’s now a series that looks ready for the long haul.  (And NBC clearly thinks so, since it’s ordered a midseason spin-off, Chicago PD.)

Last night’s season premiere, written by series creators Michael Brandt and Derek Haas and directed by Joe Chappelle, capably did some housekeeping while introducing story arcs for at least a portion of the fall.  The season finale had featured a cliffhanger in the form of a baby being carried by the ex girlfriend of Severide (Taylor Kinney), just as he was getting set to father a child by gay paramedic Shay (Lauren German).  Unfortunately, that ex-girlfriend was played by Sarah Shahi, now a regular on the head-to-head competition at CBS.  So Shay did some math and discovered that the due date makes it unlikely Severide is actually the father.  The biggest new narrative brings in Michelle Forbes (now back to playing icy bitches, after her affecting turn on The Killing) as a city bean-counter who’s slashing budgets and threatening to close Engine Co 51, putting her into open conflict with Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker).  She’s also moved a couple of officers from a closed firehouse to 51, and is trying to recruit one of them, Clark (Jeff Hephner) as her spy.  The union might be able to fight the cuts if the local president chose to do battle, but the the unopposed candidate is a doormat–and so Mouch (Christian Solte, now a regular), his confidence boosted by the in-person visit of his online Japanese girlfriend, decides to run.

Meanwhile, Severide is also being targeted by an arsonist–and Clark may or may not know a suspicious amount (probably not) about how the fires are being set.  The sports bar that was about to open across the street from the neighborhood tavern owned by Herrmann (David Eigenberg), Dawson (Monica Raymund) and Otis (Yuri Sardarov) has begun operations, and to paraphrase a famous NBC line, it’s real and it’s fabulous.  And the episode ended with the widow of Darden, the firefighter  whose death kicked off the series and whose family is still a part of Casey’s (Jesse Spencer) life, commemorating the anniversary by drinking too much with friends and then driving, causing an ugly accident and being arrested.

So there’s plenty to keep viewers attentive for a second season.  Chicago Fire is far from the most sophisticated or original of TV’s serialized procedurals, but like its characters, it knows the value of blue-collar work ethic, and it puts in the time.  The show knows what it’s trying to be, and that kind of clear vision means a lot (it’s the opposite of Nashville, a potentially more exciting show whose focus and tone  in its first season were all over the place).  Now that NBC has built Fire into a sturdy vehicle, it has a good chance of sticking around for a while.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."