All of this silliness has been dialed way, WAY back, thankfully. And the real surprise watching Chicago Fire: Season Three is actor Kinney himself, who against all expectations has evolved into a really fine as well as charismatic actor. I had very similar qualms about George Clooney during the early seasons of ER, an actor I never imagined would evolve over time to not just one of the best working actors today but also one of the very few of his generation with the charisma of older movie stars like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Kinney, who slightly resembles both Newman and McQueen, could with good career management be on the cusp a major career along the lines of Clooney, no small compliment.
Beyond that, it's pretty much business as usual for Chicago Fire, the creation of editor-turned-writer/producer Michael Brandt and writer Derek Haas, and produced by Dick Wolf's (Law & Order) company. Like Wolf's other shows, there's more emphasis on story and dramatic situations than character, exemplified by Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, though there's a lot more going on character-wise than either that series or Chicago Fire's sister show, Chicago P.D., a series still looking for its voice in its second year.
Universal's DVD set includes all 23 Season Three episodes, as well as five (count ‘em, five!) crossover episodes from Chicago PD and Law & Order: SVU involving three story threads. The transfers are up to contemporary standards, showing off this handsomely produced show well, and the DVD includes lots of extra features.
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, often freak accidents. The first two seasons stuck to this formula pretty closely but, also good, it veers from this more and more in Season Three. And, like most television drama these days, there's usually a darker "A" story complementing a slightly lighter "B" story, often involving the veteran firefighters and their hapless business ventures and love lives. Some plots are self-contained within a single episode, others are arced over many episodes or even the entire season.
Chicago Fire is set at the firehouse of Engine 51, Truck 71, Squad 3, Ambulance 61, and Battalion 25. Compared to ER, likewise set in Chicago but predominantly filmed on the Warner Bros. lot, Chicago Fire appears to shoot most of its exteriors and at least some interiors there.
(Minor Spoilers) There are six major characters and myriad supporting and recurring ones. Lt. Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer) is the no-nonsense leader of Truck 71, now engaged to paramedic-turned-candidate firefighter Gabbie Dawson (Monica Raymund). Casey and Gabbie share about equal screentime with Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney), of Rescue Squad 3.
Ladies' man Severide spends the early part of Season Three overwhelmed with grief at the death of his best friend, Paramedic Leslie Elizabeth Shay (Lauren German), killed in a warehouse fire that formed the Season 2 cliffhanger/Season 3 premiere episodes. (She's in several early episodes, in flashbacks.) He begins showing up late to work and takes to the bottle.
Eager-to-please Firefighter Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett) still grapples with ghosts from his past as well as a potentially career-ending medical condition, while a new Paramedic, runaway bride Sylvie Brett (Kara Killmer), replaces Shay. Other storylines early in Season Three includes the firehouse's constant battles with misogynistic firemen of Truck 66 (a rival house), and plans to expand Molly's Bar (owned by several characters) with a truck serving sporting events.
Over three seasons, Chicago Fire has noticeably improved from standard hour-television drama fodder into a consistently compelling and most-believable drama with lots of nail-biting suspense in its rescue scenes, all with production values that make forerunners like Emergency! seem quaint by comparison. Even the biggest rating-sweeps episodes of ER only equal the average Chicago Fire in terms of production values.
A series like Chicago Fire must be fiendishly expensive, undoubtedly several million dollars per episode. 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.
It's also worth noting that some of Chicago Fire's most interesting and believable characters are older personnel like Lt. Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg), a veteran firefighter and family man who's really the heart and soul of the house, and Christian Stolte as firefighter Randy "Mouch" McHolland, too often part of comical "B" stories but excellent at both comedy and drama.
Video & Audio
Twenty-eight 42- to 43-minute episodes (including the crossover shows) are spread across six 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.
Kudos to those who, compared to the Season 2 discs, have made it a lot easier to skip past all the FBI warnings and ads, and for including all of the crossover episodes, even though that's meant one more DVD disc than last season.
Supplements include behind-the-scenes featurettes, in addition to the crossover episodes.
Better and better all the time, Chicago Fire is Highly 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.