Tuesday, September 24, 2013

REVIEW - 'Chicago Fire' Returns with 'A Problem House,' an Action-Packed Hour with Some Strong Developing Character Work

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 2.01 A Problem House

Evidence recovered at a series of fires indicates that Lt. Severide is being targeted by an arsonist; Chief Boden clashes with Gail McLeod (Michelle Forbes), who has Firehouse 51 under her microscope as one that could face the prospect of being closed; Lt. Casey reflects on the year anniversary of Andy's death; Shay has suspicions about Severide's paternity; and Mouch enjoys a visit from his Japanese girlfriend, Mari.

Chicago Fire was one of the more interesting stories to come out of last season. It opened modestly but didn't appear as everything other than bland, pretty people being bland, pretty people. However, the creative team really found what works for the show as it developed in its first season. This is a workplace drama set in a very hectic and dangerous workplace. The human interactions need to be the driving forcing of that angle and slowly but surely the show became much more confident with itself as an ensemble piece of television. It also figured out how to do its action sequences really well and thusly features a handful of action scenarios in each episode.

As the show grew more confident, viewers grew as well. It started off as a modestly rated drama on the verge of falling out. And then, it turned into a true genuine NBC sized hit. The network is now proudly behind the show and is betting on it to precisely breakout into an actual hit - no matter what the network - with a vote of confidence move to the coveted post-Voice time slot on Tuesdays.

So, Chicago Fire returns tonight just as strongly as it figured itself out to be. The action sequences continue to be visually stunning. I love the sequence where the fire is jumping between the two buildings and they are using the ladder to cross over. That scene was marvelously directed.

But the person stories continue to go to the well of overly soapy dramatics. The action sequences are great but I didn't especially like how every fire in the premiere was explained away with an arsonist targeting Severide. Why would a person willingly be targeting a singular firefighter? This story feels like it was created to give Taylor Kinney something to do after the unavailability of Sarah Shahi. It also feels like a construct to weave in the characters who will be regulars on the spinoff series Chicago PD before that debuts on the network in midseason.

The small, quiet stuff are the moments that Chicago Fire hasn't completely nailed yet. It has made a ton of progress but it still has work to do. The handling of the Casey-Dawson dynamic is proof that the show doesn't have to be flashy all the time in order to tell a compelling story. I loved the moment in the first season finale where she went to his house, saw the mess and just hugged him. And I equally loved how they continue to handle their interactions as friends. Dawson yearns for it to be more but she has enough self-awareness to realize that at this point in time Casey just needs a friend.

In a similar vein, I am intrigued by the prospects of the story involving Michelle Forbes' consultant character investigating the financial viability of the department and of Firehouse 51. These characters are a family. They trust each other with their lives on a daily basis. An outside threat that could unravel this comfortable working relationship is rich in possibilities and inherently a great story to offer.

Some more thoughts:
  • I do think the premiere will hit a series high in the ratings. The Voice is bigger than ever as Monday revealed. However, Person of Interest is strong competition. So I'm not entirely sure of how big it will get.
  • And speaking of Person of Interest, Sarah Shahi will continue to appear here albeit very limited as she now is regular on the CBS drama.
  • Cruz: "Good to be back?" Casey: "Better than good."
  • I liked Mouch's little relationship with Mari. It was sweet and innocent despite the initial fears that it would be a story of her using him. She was a great motivator for him even though I didn't love the "You are destined for great things" line.
  • I know I raved a lot about the action stuff but what was the larger point of Dawson and Shay and the guy pushed out of the car with the gunshot wounds?