October 17, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Chicago Fire”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

CHICAGO FIRE:  Wednesday 10PM on NBC

Previously… on CHICAGO FIRE:  A firehouse in the Windy City (which houses a paramedic unit as well as a fire truck and rescue squad) is still recovering from the death of one of its own.  In particular, Kelly Severeide (Taylor Kinney), the victim’s best friend from childhood, blames himself–to the extent of shooting himself up with painkillers–and he’s scorned by the dead man’s widow.  Meanwhile, Casey (Jesse Spencer) has a marriage to doctor Hallie (Teri Reeves) that’s in trouble, which wouldn’t displease paramedic Gabriella (Monica Raymund), who is herself potentially in trouble for a risky (but successful) procedure she undertook on a patient without hospital consent.  In the course of the pilot, firefighter Herrmann (David Eigenberg) was injured in a blaze, to an extent not made clear.

Episode 2:  We all know that pilot budgets are considerably more generous than those for regular series episodes.  Still, if you’re producing a show called Chicago Fire, you might want the first post-pilot episode to have a little bit of, I don’t know… fire?  This hour, written by series creators Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, and directed by Tom DiCillo (who in another life  once wrote and directed such respected indie films as Living in Oblivion and Box of Moonlight), had as its big action sequences rescues from a building site and a car that had been hit by falling window washing equipment, both of which resulted in fatalities.  Not a lot of pyrotechnics there (although the promos for next week promise a conflagration of some kind).

A recent NY Times article about Fire honcho Dick Wolf spun the series as his first significant step out of his Law & Order comfort zone, and presumably that referred to the fact that the series provides somewhat prominent serialized stories for its main characters along with the procedural plots.  The problem is that these stories are so bland and old-fashioned that they make the ones on Army Wives look like Sons of Anarchy.  In a universe where Rescue Me ran for years on FX, it’s rather late in the day for a storyline where the guys razz the new probie by convincing him to show up in dress uniform to a picnic.  Even Casey and Hallie, who seemed to be breaking up in the pilot, are happily back together by the end of the episode, while neither Herrmann’s money problems (he is, by the way, seemingly back in perfect health) nor the Chief’s (Eamonn Walker) affair are even alluded to.  Instead, the climax of the episode is a shamelessly sentimental sequence where Severeide plays the farewell cellphone video of the man who died at the construction site for his widow–and when I say “shameless,” the video includes the dead man telling his weeping wife that Severeide struck him as being like the son the two of them always imagined but never had.

None of the personal stories are compelling, and although there are some fine actors involved here, the material is so tissue-thin that nothing much can be done with it.  Chicago Fire got off to a lackluster start in the ratings last week, last place for its hour in both 18-49s and total viewers, and while one can never anticipate NBC’s strange decisions, especially considering what Dick Wolf has meant to the network and its studio over the years, rationally speaking, one would think this is going to be an early casualty of the season.  The sad part is that it won’t even flame out–just quietly fade away.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Feels So Old, If You’re Going to Watch, Be Sure to Put Aluminum Foil On the Rabbit Ears



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."