Oh, Chicago Fire.
In this golden age of tv drama, you’ve taught me a valuable lesson. It’s obvious that making something like Mad Men or The West Wing requires particular talent. I know that shows which do something special with a formula, like your Mentalists and your White Collars, involve plenty of skill. But, you, Chicago Fire, have reminded me of a certain basic truth I’m all too prone to forget: even the easiest, most obvious type of programme, the kind that just sits there, being watchable, never mind any good, is an achievement.
Following members of the emergency services around, you do bear a striking resemblance to ER’s workmanlike but at least competent cousin Third Watch. So special congratulations are due to you for proving that even a show with no ambition to be anything other than televisual wallpaper can be less entertaining than, um, actual wallpaper.
The standard building blocks are there, let’s not forget; attractive people, professional rivalry and messy personal lives, baby! Woot! Jesse Spencer is Fireman Chase/Casey (Chasey?) leading Team Truck, while Taylor Kinney is his frenemy Severide, heading up Team Rescue. I don’t know the difference in job description but no matter: the two main competencies required are looking good and baiting each other. According to Severide, everyone wishes they were in Rescue Squad. According to Chasey, Rescue Squad wishes they were as special as they think they are. According to me… I don’t care.
Anyway, Chasey and Severide have their own individual, deeply boring, Secret Pains – as is tv law – but they also, in a stunning twist, have a shared Secret Pain. A shared one! They blame each other but really themselves for the death of their colleague who doesn’t make it past the opening fire. EACH OTHER BUT REALLY THEMSELVES. DO YOU SEE? This means they’re irrevocably bound together, brooding and glaring at each other forever. Except, of course, when they have to heroically put their pain aside to rescue each other from the least convincing and ineffective life-threatening situation ever – because, lest we forget, tv fire only ever kills minor characters who don’t take their shirts off, people, come on now.
But, contrary to what you might think or indeed hope, Chasey and Severide are not the only characters on this show. Oh, no. The cast is packed full of, um, other people. Who, um, do other stuff. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you any of these other people’s names except paramedic Dawson – who distinguishes herself by carrying out heart surgery in an ambulance and decompressing a tension pneumothorax in the middle of the road in the space of one episode, I mean, who needs hospitals? – and paramedic Shay who, er, drives paramedic Dawson around. Everyone else (much like the plot, script and acting) however, is battered together into a blustering, homogenous mass of cliches, plodding along against a backdrop of flames and whooshes, soundtracked by the momentous strings of “audience: feel it NOW” high emotion.
Even the Mayor turns up to remind us that these are flawed HEROES, dammit, HEROES, with muscles and hats and firm handshakes. Who needs convincing dialogue, remotely interesting storylines or anything subtler than characterisation by anvil? Because that is the true genius of this show. To make a tv programme about gorgeous people running from rescue to rescue completely, astoundingly unwatchable – even Baywatch was watchable! – my goodness. Now we know, if you try hard enough, if you dare to dream, you can. Well done, Chicago Fire. Well done.