Thursday, March 2, 2017

REVIEW: NBC's 'Chicago Fire,' 'Chicago P.D.,' 'Chicago Justice' and 'Chicago Med' (March 1-2)

Reviews for NBC's Chicago franchise from March 1-2:

NBC's Chicago Fire - Episode 5.15 "Deathtrap"
NBC's Chicago P.D. - Episode 4.16 "Emotional Proximity"
NBC's Chicago Justice - Episode 1.01 "Fake"
NBC's Chicago Med - Episode 2.15 "Lose Yourself"

Due to the demands of Peak TV, it is becoming more and more difficult for this website to devote the time to full length episodic reviews. And yet, there are still thoughts to be had about the ongoing adventures on a number of series. So I thought it would be good to still write down a couple of brief thoughts about each episode on a weekly basis. Of course, you can still expect full reviews for premieres and finales. If NBC should make screeners available, those episodes would get detailed analysis as well. But for now, this will be the way to continue to provide content for these shows while also being a lighter workload for me.

Chicago Fire - "Deathtrap"
Truck and squad are called to aid in a massive all-city response when an old, ill-equipped factory-turned live/work space quickly turns into a firestorm, trapping countless unsuspecting victims. The dire situation quickly turns personal when it is discovered that one of Chicago PD's own has a family member at the scene. With the rescued victims in need of serious medical attention, the doctors and nurses of Chicago Med are tested as the major influx of patients are brought through their doors. In the aftermath, the building owner steps forward to cooperate with the ongoing investigation, but the situation takes a sudden and unexpected turn. Written by Andrea Newman and directed by Joe Chappelle

There is an overwhelming sense of dread, despair and emotion throughout this hour - the start to a massive three-show crossover. It's clear from the moment truck and squad pull up that this is going to be a life-changing fire. There is a grandiosity to every plot beat of this story. And yet, it works incredibly well because this show knows how to blend these big action beats with character-based stories. It's harrowing to watch as the firefighters keep pulling people out of this fire. They aren't able to save them all. The fire defines the first half of the hour. It leaves so much devastation in its wake. The next half sets up more of the mystery of what happened and who's responsible. The building owner committing suicide is another way to build dread in this story. The life-and-death stakes are abundantly clear. But it's also so rewarding to see the moments of hopefulness - like Mouch comforting a girl at Chicago Med, Gabby and Brett reuniting some potential lovers and grateful parents wanting to thank the firehouse. And then, there is the big Severide-Anna reunion. That's a swelling of emotion that really works. Sure, the episode is very manipulative and wants the audience to get sucked in - despite Anna completely leaving her life in Springfield behind. But it doesn't ultimately matter because those two work so well together. They are the light in the darkness of this horrible situation. A-

Chicago P.D. - "Emotional Proximity"
Olinsky's daughter remains in critical condition following a massive fire - leaving Intelligence on edge, but more determined than ever to track down the suspect. Voight opens up the case, knowing that he has Stone and his team's full support in the investigation, and all of Firehouse 51 behind him to examine potential origins of the fire. Intelligence works to connect the dots between the building owner, those who were inside, and a string of potential suspects. Written by Matt Olmstead and directed by Reza Tabrizi

Putting family members in harm's way is an easy way to create drama and emotion. So, having Olinsky's daughter be a victim of this massive fire gives the whole story an immediate personal touch. And yet, Chicago P.D. has already told this story. It was just last season that Voight's own son was killed and he spiraled into making some reckless decisions. Plus, there was that time Antonio's son was kidnapped (though that had a happy ending). So now, it's Olinsky's turn. It's powerful to see him broken down and desperate for Will to save his daughter. But it also feels inevitable that she'll die. That then adds a nice complication to the investigation. This hour is much more straight-forward with the actual police work than the Chicago Fire portion of the crossover. It has to be because Voight and the Intelligence unit need to make some sense of what happened. Sure, it's a lot of chasing false leads until they finally get the right suspect in the end. But it also just feels like a lot of setup for the Chicago Justice portion of the hour. Plus, the cops torturing the suspects to get them to talk has always been one of my least favorite aspects of the show. So, it's good that Olinsky doesn't do anything. But of course, that comes right after Voight had a knife to the guy's throat. So, it's a push-and-pull that doesn't totally work. B

Chicago Justice - "Fake"
With someone in custody for both arson and multiple murders, it is up to Peter Stone and his team, including lead investigator Antonio Dawson, to step in to bring some peace and resolution to so many families and friends of those lost - including one very close to home. When the team comes face to face with a hotshot attorney, they find themselves up against a dicey confession, incriminating evidence, and a questionable motive. Written by Michael Chernuchin and directed by Donald Petrie

It's understandable for Dick Wolf's Chicago franchise to use a big crossover event to launch the latest spinoff. It's not how the previous spinoffs debuted. But these episodes boost higher than average ratings for the shows - which is a strong way to launch a new show. And yet, it's slightly problematic as well. For the first two hours of this crossover story, there was a swelling of emotion because it hit so personally to the characters. With Chicago Justice, the audience doesn't know these characters yet. Yes, Philip Winchester and Carl Weathers have popped up a few times on the other shows while Jon Seda was a regular character on P.D. But the audience doesn't know what to fully expect from this hour as it's up to the prosecutors to really finish this story. And thus, this hour spends more time on the mystery of the crime than the emotion behind it. Mostly, it's about Stone trying to establish a motive for why this man set this fire and killed 39 people. The resolution does feel earned and is devastating. But the show really hits the audience over the head as bluntly as possible with its big moment of social media being the new stalker's tool. That's not subtle at all. However, that doesn't take away from Philip Winchester proving himself a capable leading man and Bradley Whitford being a solid guest star to add some more complications to the story. B

Chicago Med - "Lose Yourself"
It's a miracle when a trauma patient survives the trip to the hospital, putting the pressure on Dr. Rhodes to keep the man alive. Dr. Choi and Dr. Manning have difficulty diagnosing the location of infection in a paralyzed patient. Dr. Reese must find purpose for a grieving widower who relies on a superhero costume. April pushes Dr. Halstead to use unproved medications to help a patient with no other options. Written by Eli Talbert and directed by David Rodriguez

Chicago Med
 is a little bit of the odd show out this week for the Chicago franchise. It doesn't have an episode solely devoted to the big crossover event. Some characters were important to that story. Will and Natalie were the ones working on Olinsky's daughter before she died. It was important to see the chaos that rain down on the emergency department in the aftermath of the fire. But "Lose Yourself" is just a regular episode of this show that has nothing to do with the other three series. And honestly, this hour is devastating in its own right. The way the hour so matter-of-factly drops the news that April has lost her baby is chilling. It occurs a third of the way through the episode with no warning whatsoever. Yes, this was a high-risk pregnancy. The odds of this happening were higher than normal. But it's still heartbreaking to see her get the news and then go be a fierce advocate for her patient. This is a strong episode for Yaya DaCosta. It should also be fascinating to see what the loss of the baby means for April and Nate. Nate was an afterthought to this episode. So, does that really set him up as someone to last in April's life? Elsewhere, it's fascinating to see Connor get swept up in a miracle only to realize he may be doing just as much harm. And finally, the other medical stories with Natalie, Choi and Sarah just weren't as interesting even though they were unique too. B