David Eigenberg, left, Monica Raymund , Lauren German and Yuri Sardarov… (Matt Dinerstein / NBC )
Dick Wolf, the man behind the globally successful "Law & Order" family of television shows, has fared less well when straying from his practically patented formula (and, for that matter, from New York City as a background). But when you are known for doing one thing well, it is always tempting to prove yourself capable of doing another.
In "Chicago Fire," Wolf tries on a new city and a new setting. Created by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas ("2 Fast 2 Furious") and premiering Wednesday on NBC, the "Law & Order" network, it is set in a Chicago firehouse — with a nice skyline view from the driveway — where various factions cooperate and compete and get together for a beer at the end of the day.
It begins, as is often the case with such stories, with a teammate's death. This has created a rift between double leads Jesse Spencer, who commands a fire truck, and Taylor Kinney, who runs the Rescue Squad, who blame each other for what happened. Or a wider rift, rather; they are already institutional rivals. ("Truck versus Squad, old as the CFD," says tough but tender but tough firehouse chief Eamonn Walker. "So deal with it.")
It also makes way for the arrival of a rookie (Charlie Barnett), a surrogate for the audience and excuse for an abundance of expository dialogue.
Spencer, whom I did not immediately recognize as Dr. Chase from "House" — he has left his Australian accent in the trailer — is fair and Kinney dark, for easy identification; similar division has been made of female leads Monica Raymund and Lauren German, who go about together in an ambulance. As on other Wolf shows, the men come in different shapes and sizes while the women are almost universally beautiful in the actress-model mold. (In real life, of course, firemen all look like movie stars.)
There is more action, naturally, than in the orderly "Law & Order," and more interpersonal drama — though this is not "Rescue Me," the Denis Leary dysfunctional firemen show, by a long shot. The conflicts are more conventional, the sentiments more sentimental.
But there is life-and-death suspense on the streets, some of it impressively staged; convincing ordinary detail in the station house; and a cast that has been clearly encouraged, in the Jack Webb-derived Dick Wolf way of things, to underplay.
In a world without cable dramas, "Chicago Fire" would be considered television at its more compelling and realistic. As it is, it walks the line between shameless entertainment — hot guys, hot girls, the fires within, the fires without — and intelligent storytelling. Its merits, I will say, are clearer after the third episode than after the first.
A cameo appearance from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, promoted within the show for the length of the show, amounts only to a silent walk-on. But it does make you think, "They got Rahm Emanuel to do this; that must mean something."
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