A television ensemble drama about firefighters and paramedics working in the Windy City, Chicago Fire (2012-present) is the creation of editor-turned-writer/producer Michael Brandt and writer Derek Haas (the 3:10 to Yuma remake), and produced by Law & Order's Dick Wolf's production company. The series is fairly good, with excellent production values that predecessors like Emergency! could never have imagined and, more importantly, interesting, involving, and character-driven storylines in the ER/Third Watch vein.
My major complaint about the series is its painfully obvious pandering to the 18-24-year-old demographic. The cast is overrun with young actors who, talented though many of them are, resemble Abercrombie & Fitch models. Co-lead Taylor Kinney apparently literally was a model himself for several years before turning to acting. At its worst, Chicago Fire succumbs to hot-sex-in-the-firehouse type exploitation and is jarringly unreal at times. For instance, while accurately acknowledging that many firefighters are so underpaid they have to work second jobs, Kinney's character and his hot lesbian roommate share what looks like a $6,000/month loft. The firehouse exterior on the show is the real thing; it's located at 1360 S. Blue Island Ave., with the iconic Sears Tower is often visible in the distance.
The series resembles forerunners like Emergency! in that Chicago Fire typically centers around two big set-pieces, often one major fire and one smaller scale but equally harrowing rescue operation, emergencies presenting unusual and/or dangerous accident scenes: a wrecked car teetering on an overpass ledge, a suicide attempt where a jumper survived the fall only to be impaled on a wrought iron fence on the way down. And, like most television drama these days, there's usually a darker "A" story complementing a slightly lighter "B" story. Some plots are self-contained within a single episode; others are arced over many episodes or even the entire season.
Universal's DVD set includes all 24 season one episodes, plus more than an hour's worth of bonus content. The transfers are up to contemporary standards, showing off this handsomely produced well.
One has to admire the producer's restraint in not having the cast pose completely in the nude.
The series is set at the firehouse of Engine 51, Truck 71, Squad 3, Ambulance 61, and Battalion 25. Compared to ER, likewise set in Chicago (although the city was rarely if ever named) but mostly filmed on the Warner Bros. lot, Chicago Fire appears to shoot most of its exteriors there.
There are six major characters and myriad supporting and recurring ones. Lt. Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer) is the no-nonsense leader of Truck 71. A major early story arc involves his decision to file a damning report against a powerful, dirty cop whose son caused a drunk driving accident that left a teenage boy paralyzed. Casey shares about equal screentime with Lt. Kelly Severide (Kinney), of Rescue Squad 3. Severide is suffering from a spinal injury requiring a long medical leave that he resists, hiding his agonizing pain with drugs illegally provided him by his lesbian roommate, Paramedic Leslie Elizabeth Shay (Lauren German). Shay's Ambulance 61 partner, Paramedic in Charge Gabbie Dawson (Monica Raymund), frequently finds herself at odds with emergency room doctors who resent her on-scene and en-route treatment of accident victims, treatment that often breaks with protocol.
Eager-to-please Firefighter Candidate Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett) is the son of a respected, fallen firefighter and determined to become a firefighter himself, but his coffee shop owner mother adamantly opposes the idea, fearing she'll lose her son just as she lost her husband. Veteran firefighter Chris Hermann struggles with injury and finances, finally opening "Molly's Bar" with several other firefighters acting as investors. And, finally, 25th Battalion Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker) is the physically scarred patriarchal figure; in one early episode his career is on the line after he orders his men to pull out of a warehouse fire and a homeless man subsequently dies in the blaze.
Chicago Fire is pretty standard hour-television drama fodder but it's compelling nonetheless, especially during the frighteningly realistic fires and rescues. The aforementioned catering to a younger demographic is unfortunate as is its overdone, pandering to whatever it is that draws some women (and gay men) specifically to firefighters, blatantly balanced by the hot babes playing paramedics, doctors, and receptionists. I hope once the show establishes itself there will be a bit less of this.
A series like Chicago Fire must be fiendishly expensive. It's produced on the scale of a theatrical feature, and many of the spectacular fires and accidents appear only intermittently assisted by CGI graphics. Most of these set pieces seem to be done full-scale, with on-set special effects.
The program did well enough in the ratings to be picked up for a second season, and a spin-off about Chicago cops is already in development.
Video & Audio
Twenty-four 42- to 43-minute episodes are spread across five single-sided, dual-layered discs. The 1.78:1 enhanced widescreen shows look quite good, up to contemporary television/video standards, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is, expectedly, quite lively and full of oomph. Optional English SDH subs are available, and the discs are region 1 encoded.
Supplements behind-the-scenes featurettes individually covering 15 of the 24 episodes, a bit of overkill if you ask me, as well as podcast videos featuring actor Yuri Sararov, who plays Firefighter Otis Zvonecek, a quasi-comedy relief character.
Not great but quite satisfying despite obvious pandering leading to occasional ludicrousness, Chicago Fire is still Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.