Thursday, March 22, 2018

REVIEW: 'Station 19' - Andy Steps Up for a Promotion, Then Proves Herself in the Field in 'Stuck' & 'Invisible to Me'

ABC's Station 19 - Episodes 1.01 "Stuck" and 1.02 "Invisible to Me"

When the team responds to an apartment fire, Captain Pruitt takes a hit. The future of the station's leadership is in jeopardy and Andy is forced to step up. New recruit Ben Warren is trading in the scalpel for a fresh start as a firefighter, but it hasn't been easy and he has a hard time realizing that emergencies in the field are vastly different than those at Grey Sloan Memorial. Andy and Jack try to navigate how to work together. A car accident on a rural road puts both the victims and the crew's lives at risk.

It continues to be so impressive to see just how strong the ratings still are for Grey's Anatomy. That show is airing its fourteenth season and it's still the top drama for ABC. It has had a bit more competition this year for the top spot from The Good Doctor and American Idol. But it's still a reliably strong performer for the network. It anchors Thursday night. This night has belonged to Shonda Rhimes for a couple of years now. Of course, it's now in jeopardy because Rhimes is moving from ABC to Netflix. She'll still have an influence on her current shows. But her new projects are going to the streaming service. As such, it should be interesting to see how ABC reacts with its development process. It picked up Station 19 in the first place because it wanted to continue to build on the success of Grey's Anatomy. The medical procedural already produced a successful spinoff in Private Practice. It lasted for six seasons. Of course, those characters haven't been mentioned in a really long time. But it's also easy to get excited about a new spinoff in this world. Grey's Anatomy still produces interesting stories. Sure, it's recycled a number of plots three or four times now. It's on its fifth round of new interns this year. But it's still reliably entertaining. Any show would be lucky to mimic its success. That's what Station 19 is trying to do. It's a daunting task. Grey's Anatomy has had longevity because of the characters and their stories. Station 19 needs to establish itself right away as its own show that is still entertaining. This two-hour premiere is a solid start even though it seems like it too is recycling ideas that once worked on Grey's Anatomy.

The first hour is very much filled with nostalgia for those viewers who are aware of the deep history of Grey's Anatomy. It presents a story where a woman is living in the shadow of her infamous parent. In this case, it's firefighter Andy Herrera who works in the firehouse where her father is captain. He enjoys sharing the same stories over and over again while always just relying on his daughter to pick up his messes and do his paperwork. It's exhausting for her. Plus, she is caught up in a love triangle at work. She finds herself being pulled in different directions by her current boyfriend Jack - who is her superior at the station - and her childhood sweetheart Tanner - who is a police officer. She also has a strong female friendship with Bishop where they talk frankly and candidly about every aspect of their lives while still being a little twisted. These are all moves that Grey's Anatomy has pulled out already. As such, it doesn't quite feel so refreshing to see them utilized here. There needs to be points of differentiation. The most significant of which here appears to be Captain Pruitt. He is dying just like Ellis Grey was. And yet, he still has his full faculties. He is opinionated and demanding. But he still looms in this world. He's a regular presence at the station even after he is forced to step down for medical reasons. He actually lives with Andy and she'll be forced to take care of him while he constantly criticizes her decisions.

At the heart of the show though, there is still a female empowerment message. It's fundamentally a story about a woman stepping up and demanding to get the respect that she deserves. Andy is just at the start of that journey. She's unsure of what she wants in her romantic life. She discovers Jack already has a wedding ring. They've only been dating for six months and that quickly sends her spiraling. She sleeps with Tanner after learning her father has cancer. She doesn't really know how to talk to either of them about what these actions actually mean. But she is a great firefighter. She is assertive and confident with her job. She is willing to step up even though she's not next in line for this promotion. Of course, it's a little weird that Jack has made lieutenant already even though he is rash and always seems ready to rush into fires without formulating a strategy first. That doesn't make him seem like a good leader at all. As such, he's being positioned as both a romantic lead and as an obstacle in Andy's path towards success. A qualified woman finds herself in competition for a job with a less than talented man. That's the main story of the season. Andy and Jack are going back and forth as captain of the house. A decision will eventually be made as to who will permanently fill the spot. But right now, it's a competition. That can be exciting. But right now, the love triangle is the least entertaining aspect of the show because Jack and Tanner are the least defined characters.

Of course, that's also a key struggle for the show throughout these opening hours. The audience doesn't yet know these characters. As such, it's hard to tell who's who once they have all of their gear on. The only characters the audience is familiar with are Andy and Ben. Andy made quite an impression in an episode of Grey's Anatomy a few weeks ago. It was Jaina Lee Ortiz's performance that made me excited for this spinoff. Meanwhile, Ben Warren is a main character from Grey's Anatomy being spun off for this show. Now, that has been more complicated because this is the second career transition Ben has had in his time in this world. He started as an anesthesiologist before becoming a surgical resident. And now, he's finding new passion as a firefighter. In the first hour, he really struggles because he only wants to talk about how he cut into people and held beating hearts in his hands. He's exaggerating to an extent. But he's also really annoying in doing so. He wonders why everyone keeps treating him as the new kid at school when he's not some reckless youngster. He has experienced real medical emergencies and knows how to handle himself in traumatic circumstances. But it's also clear that he is still learning how to do this job. He wants to be perceived as good. It's just more of a struggle to gain that respect. It's an annoying subplot in the first hour that is only really saved by a special appearance from Bailey. Now, that crossover probably won't be happening very often. So, it's important for Ben to not take up too much time and attention while still actually growing at this job.

In fact, the second hour does a significantly better job at incorporating Ben into this team. It has a strong main story where Ben and Vic bound over the course of a couple emergencies. Things get personal for Ben when a fire alarm is triggered at his son's school. It's just a false alarm meant to get them to the school to help a pregnant girl give birth. It's a tricky situation because Ben and Vic don't have the proper medical tools and Andy has followed protocol and sent the ambulance away. But it still works out in the end. Things look pretty ominous for a moment because the amniotic sac doesn't break during the delivery. But the baby comes out perfectly healthy. The hour then builds to an even more perilous situation for these two. The station later gets called to the scene of a major highway accident. A tanker has fallen over and is spilling unknown chemicals. As the heat intensifies, Andy comes to the realization that it's a chemical that burns clear and can't be seen when the lights are on. It's such a different kind of trauma that really amplifies the tension immediately. Of course, it always seems unlikely that Ben and Vic are actually going to die. That would be a grim note to start the season on. But the show wants to live in life-or-death stakes. This is a very dangerous job where not everyone survives. It's a sacrifice to do it while being an honor. Andy loves it so much. The show wants to highlight the privilege that comes from doing this job. And right now, it's just really strong character building to see Ben and Vic bond as they try to find a way to survive this fire. They are running out of oxygen and are at risk of burning to death. It's a close call with Andy taking awhile to take action. But she ultimately does and everything works out perfectly fine. It's a rush of emotions. It's an adrenaline high that Andy is willing to chase. It's a success for her first shift as captain. It's solid forward momentum for the show as well. Now, it should just be interesting to see how the show plans on keeping it up.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Stuck" was written by Stacy McKee and directed by Paris Barclay.
  • "Invisible to Me" was written by Stacy McKee and directed by Paris Barclay.
  • At the moment, it seems like Tanner is the only Seattle PD officer who ever responds to the calls alongside the firefighters. He is always at the scene helping with the response. It's a line of communication between the departments that needs to be maintained. And yet, it also seems like he is just following this firetruck around knowing that Andy is there and he'll have to interact with her at some point.
  • The show offers a tease that Jack and Tanner may not be all that different after all. They both signed up for jobs that put them in harm's way. They both love what they do. Plus, they both know who Andy is and how she'll react in any given situation. They have similar mindsets which could make them become friends. That would surely complicate this love triangle.
  • It's great that this show features a gay character. That has been a notable aspect of many Shondaland shows. Here, Travis comes with a tragic backstory though. His husband was also a firefighter who died on the job. It happened a little over a year ago. That's basically all that's known about Travis right now. It is all delivered in one monologue to connect with an elderly patient. But it's delivered well and the show doesn't wallow in the grief for very long.
  • The show is also keenly aware of the sexual politics that come from this profession. When the crew arrives at the school, the principal immediately assumes that Jack is the man in charge. When Andy gets her promotion, her battalion chief appreciates the strides in gender equality while also pointing out the slight nepotism involved. But the show also just confidently has three main firefighters who happen to women. That's a powerful visual.
  • Miller appears to be the guy who always gets romantically close with the people he saves during calls. He wants to be perceived as the romantic hero. He swoops in to save the day and get the credit. But now, that means he has a dog named Charlie living with him. Plus, the episodes end with him responding to the apartment of his latest crush and realizing there is unknown gas in the crawl space above the room. That's an ominous note to end on.