9–1–1 Season 2 Review
One of the bigger surprise hits of last season was Ryan Murphy’s 9–1–1. It sounded pretty pedestrian when I heard about it — a series about LA’s first responders, the police, firefighters, and operators who handle emergency cases. It sounded like a variation on Third Watch, a modestly successful but creatively unimaginative NBC series of the 2000s, and even though it had better actors and better writers than that series, I just decided to let it pass, even though the numbers were exceptional for Fox in its dour days. Then I had some free time around the second season premiere, and decided “What the hell.” And found myself more engaged then I thought I’d be.
I’ve never been wild about the ‘emergency response’ drama as a genre. ER never particularly worked for me, and most of the medical dramas that have followed stick to that formula with little creative imagination. 9–1–1 tries a bit harder then most of the series that have stuck to that formula. It helps a great deal that it has two of my favorite actors as the leads: Peter Krause, an actor who is to television what Tom Hanks is to film, as Bobby Nash, the head of the firefighters, and Angela Bassett, yet another in the long line of talented African-American actresses who’ve found more success on film then TV, as Officer Athena Massey. It’s also rare to see two actors fast approaching fifty as the leads of any network series, much less as romantic leads. (Apparently, they starting hooking up in the gap between seasons) Admittedly, both roles are slightly below the standards of so much the work they’ve done on this medium, but both have the ability and command to rise about it. Both were more than up to the task in the multi-part season premiere in which a 7.1 earthquake hit, and both of them had to deal with the overflow of emergency response. Bassett actually had a fairly light story in which she responded to a riot at a grocery store, which she realized quickly had started after the owner had starting gauging the shoppers. It was an authoritative scene with rare comedy that ended with a purchase of a Hershey that was funnier than a lot of comedy scenes I’ve seen.
But then Athena isn’t on the front lines as often. We more frequently see the firefighters at work, and they’ve gone to rather high levels to give characterization to almost everybody. The biggest lead is Kenneth Choi as ‘Chimney’, a firefighter who had a rebar stuck through his skull last season, and seemed to have a remarkable physical recovery. But last night’s episode dealt with the possible of PTSD, in which we realized that none of the trauma had left him, and that he was actually beginning to feel appalled that his life hadn’t changed as a result of something so horrible. Other firefighters are also well drawn, including Michael Grant, a widow with a son with cerebral palsy, trying to negotiate the world of home health care.
And perhaps the most remarkable thing about this series is how normal everything seems. If its a Ryan Murphy series on broadcast, you expect the camp level to me turned up to nine at least. But much of the histrionics that plagued Scream Queens or the later seasons of Glee are absent. Murphy and his staff seem to hold most of their writing for human drama, and the characters are among the most realistic I’ve ever seen from him, which is astounding in itself.
It’s not a perfect series, by any means. Jennifer Love Hewitt joined the cast this season as Maddie, the call operator/former nurse who replaced Connie Britton. Hewitt is good — better and more down to earth, in fact, then she’s been in nearly twenty years — but the series still has yet to give her much to work with. And the emergencies themselves all seem to have a level of ridiculousness when so many happen, that the switch to tragedy doesn’t always work. But for a genre that has been growing increasingly stale thanks to Shonda Rhimes and Dick Wolf, 9–1–1 (ahem) does more to resuscitate it than I’ve seen in awhile.
My score: 3.75 stars.