Fox’s new drama, “9-1-1,” aims to share that even those who come to our rescue daily and appear to tackle any danger still carry their own unfixable burdens of life. The series — created by the celebrated duo from “American Horror Story,” Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk — follows the lives of a squad of first responders, who are still occupied with their own personal struggles back home while saving lives and fighting crime. Though the pilot episode is packed with unique criminal activity, moments of sheer humor and a star-studded cast, “9-1-1” falls flat and comes off as formulaic.
The episode opens with 911 operator Abby Clark (Connie Britton, “Nashville”) leaving her sick, bedridden mother to hustle into work and start receiving calls for the day. Her character’s most pressing work dilemma is feeling underappreciated and out of the loop, as every time help arrives on the scene of an emergency, the caller hangs up and forgets about her dispatcher efforts forever. Britton embodies Abby as a first responder who chooses to distract herself from her personal trauma by investing herself in the fate of the panicked people on the line. Remarkably, Abby stays calm and in control, and only faces her emotion while on the job.
Then there’s the fire force, composed of Captain Bobby (Peter Krause, “Parenthood”), newbie Buck (Oliver Stark, “Into The Badlands”), the brassy Henrietta (Aisha Hinds, “Under the Dome”) and the witty Howie (Kenneth Choi, “The Last Man on Earth”), who together form a rag-tag family. There is a clear and palpable chemistry between the members of the fire squad, though so far, their characterization and storylines appear run-of-the-mill and leave much to be desired. While we get insight into some of their personal dramas, including an alcohol addiction and an affinity for meaningless sex, we only see the development of one character arc, Buck’s. In taking on the trope of the rookie who must earn his stripes, Buck goes from being fired by Captain Bobby for secretly taking the fire truck to pick up dates, to saving a little girl from a home invasion and ultimately being brought back on the squad. This leaves me wondering what more could come from this character, as his whole story was seemingly spoiled in a single episode.
Lastly, there’s the police, whose force is questionably composed of only one meager — yet extremely badass — member, Sergeant Athena Grant (Angela Bassett, “American Horror Story”). Her internal struggle may be the most sentimental out of all, as she is tasked with fighting crime by day and coming to grips with her husband’s coming out to their family by night. Her portrayal is strong and energetic, and it is her plot arc that appears to have the most potential for raw emotion and dramatic encounters.
One of “9-1-1”’s most prominent weaknesses is its jumbled and zig-zagging plot. We rarely see the three different fields of first responders interact in this episode, and the plot rapidly and unexpectedly jumps back and forth between emergency and field far too often. The pilot lacked major cohesion, which I’m hoping will be generated as the season progresses.
Overall, no matter how chaotic and cluttered, because of its uncommon plot points, considerable cast, and edge-of-your-seat potential, “9-1-1” just might be worthy of tuning in for another week. For what it’s worth, the emergency scenarios presented in the show were quite original as compared to anything that I’ve seen before. In the first episode alone we were privy to a premature baby flushed down the toilet and stuck in the pipes and a woman choked by her own collection of exotic snakes. This led to some moments of pure suspense and entertainment, but ultimately, staying aware that this is a network drama, it was wearily known that the first responders couldn’t and wouldn’t possibly leave an emergency unattended, unsettled or unsolved.