Tuesday, November 17, 2015

REVIEW: 'Chicago Med' - A Mass Casualty Accident Interrupts the Opening Ceremony of the New ER in 'The Green Branch'

NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 1.01 "The Green Branch"

The emergency department's grand opening is interrupted by an onslaught of crash victims, pushing hospital administrator Sharon Goodwin and her staff to their limits as they frantically work to triage and treat patients.

The television genre is no stranger to medical-based procedurals. In fact, it's a genre that had two Chicago-based shows airing at the same time in the 1990s. Both ER and Chicago Hope set a high bar for Chicago Med to live up to. Sure, the show has some confidence heading into its series debut because it's the third series in Dick Wolf's Chicago franchise. It started as a backdoor pilot in April on Chicago Fire. That was able to introduce a handful of characters who populate the emergency room at Chicago Med. The other two shows have done fine introductions for some of these characters. The Med characters have already been featured on both Fire and P.D. this year. Oliver Platt in particular feels like he pops up as Dr. Charles once a week on one of the other two shows. The universe has done an effective job at filling itself with memorable and realistic characters. Now that just has to create a third show in the franchise that is just as compelling to watch on its own merits.

Chicago Med is a bit more stationary than the other two Chicago shows because all of its action primarily happens in the emergency room. This team of doctors doesn't have to go into the field. So it's a bit weird in this opening episode when the characters do venture outside the hospital walls - considering it's suppose to be a very tense opening day for the new ER. Those moments help inform the characters in a way that's necessary if this show is going to be as successful as the other two. But everything that happens in this episode is very familiar of the genre. So many medical shows have come before Chicago Med. So some of the medical tricks are no longer as exciting as they once were. And yet, it's still a genre that has a fantastic pulse to it. This hour really does breeze by because of the effective storytelling beats. And yet, it also relies heavily on the medical procedural aspect of the narrative in this opening episode.

"The Green Branch" opens the series with a mass casualty event. Those type of episodes typically do well on Chicago Fire. All of the main characters have to come together to deal with one major crisis. In this case, it's a part of the L train coming off the tracks. That accident forces the entire staff to cut the grand opening ceremony short in order to prepare for the incoming traumas. This hour spotlights a handful of the injuries sustained in the crash while Firehouse 51 actually deals with the crashed train. It's all done in order to start the series in the most exciting and tense way possible. It doesn't allow the audience to relax into understanding the characters. In this situation, they all need to act first in order to save lives. Those actions determine who they are as characters. And some of those actions are exciting and some are not.

The series premiere has to introduce a half dozen characters who haven't been featured previously on Fire or P.D. If you watch those two shows (and honestly watching the other two helps understand this whole universe better), characters like Dr. Will Halstead, Dr. Daniels Charles, hospital administrator Sharon Goodwin and nurse April Sexton already have personalities. This episode sets out to define the characters who haven't been seen before. They are paired with the more familiar characters in order to introduce their identities. But it's still done in a very broad way.

A huge part of this first story is told from the point-of-view of Dr. Connor Rhodes, the new trauma fellow at Chicago Med. He was actually on the train during the accident. Why he was so casually late to the first day of the new job is a mystery that is never answered or addressed at all. But he comes into the ER with confidence as he is trying to save a critically injured man's life. He is calling the shots - much to Will's annoyance. Connor and Will both somewhat feel like they fill the same character archetype. The episode points out they come from different backgrounds. But the hour is also trying too hard to establish some tension between the two characters. Will was cocky when he was first introduced on P.D. Now, he somewhat feels like a part of the team - even though he still annoys the hospital's administration. Meanwhile, Connor comes in and everyone notices how attractive he is and how that may stir up some trouble. Connor and Will are both very good doctors. Their dynamic right now is very reminiscent of how Casey and Severide started out in the early days of Fire. Now, those two are best friends and work well together as a team. That's probably what's going to happen here as well.

Out of the other new characters, Dr. Natalie Manning is the only one who makes much of an impression. That's only because the premiere brings so much attention to her pregnancy and her mysteriously missing husband. She jumps back and forth from a case involving a young girl with a broken leg who goes into cardiac arrest and a pregnant surrogate with overbearing parents of the baby. It's the latter case that has a lot of value in this episode because it forces Will and Natalie to work as a team while treating a patient who is seemingly beating the odds. They run into some tensions by the biological parents who don't want to put the healthy baby at risk. That's a good enough explanation for how Sharon figures into the ongoing case structure. But again, everything works out in the end.

In fact, most of the cases that the characters take on in this episode have a happy ending. The surrogate and her baby both survive surgery - despite a fake out being utilized to lead into an act break. The young girl is fine once medical student Sarah Reese uses enough force to do CPR. The only tragic outcome is the guy who Connor first arrived at the hospital with. He did not make it which devastates his girlfriend turned fianc√©. But even this story ended in a heartwarming place by the guy being able to donate his lungs to another patient in the ER who needed them in order to survive. It's a very manipulative plot device that has been done a million times on shows like this. But it still found a way to bring Connor and Charles together in service of their patient. That kind of character work is spotty in this premiere but it has to be the priority if Chicago Med is going to make it as a series. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Green Branch" was directed by Michael Waxman with story by Andrew Dettmann and teleplay by Andrew Dettmann, Diane Frolov & Andrew Schneider.
  • The show even got Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to come in and congratulate the staff on the new fictional emergency room opening and all the good work they will do for the city. That showed just how serious the franchise takes its universe.
  • Dr. Ethan Choi doesn't seem to have a personality at all. Right now, he is just a sturdy rock in the ER. A presence there that can be relied upon without very much explanation over what his job actually is.
  • It's already so annoying watching Sarah learn how to practice all of her skills on trauma patients. Right now, she feels more comfortable in the lab. That's going to change by the end of the season. It already feels so predictable and unexciting.
  • It's great that the show has main characters who are not trauma physicians. That's only one part of working in the ER. Though it's probably going to be awkward incorporating Sharon and Charles in a story every week. Not impossible but the show will need to find the right rhythm quickly.
  • So who is going to be this show's big romantic couple who work together? On Fire, it's Casey and Gaby. On P.D., its Jay and Erin. Right now, it seems pretty clear that Connor will be one side of the equation - with the female counterpart either being April or Natalie. 
  • It's also a tad surprising that the premiere doesn't go overboard by bringing in characters from the other shows. Sylvie comes in with a patient from the ambulance while Herrmann gives an update on the crash site. That's about it. I guess the franchise has learned how to better utilize all of these characters appearing on all three shows.