Over the course of the past few seasons, NBC has shifted their programming following a decade of a low-rated shows. Riding off of the massive success of the “The Voice,” the network built a schedule out of procedurals, following a similar strategy to CBS’s in the early 2000s (which led to the launch of “CSI” and “NCIS,” among others). A major part of that plan has been the “Chicago” block, created by the mind behind NBC’s other big franchise, Dick Wolf (“Law & Order”). Starting with the respectable hit “Chicago Fire” in 2012, the network has created a group of shows that don’t bring in the audience of an “NCIS,” but do keep the lights on in what used to be difficult timeslots for the network. The premeiere of “Chicago Med” solidified the show as a representative entry of the franchise. It’s as generic as they come, but it will find an audience who enjoys medical dramas with help from a post-“Voice” timeslot.
“Chicago Med” follows a group of doctors at the fictional Chicago Medical. In the pilot, a subway train derails downtown, causing the hospital to overflow with patients. Witnessing the accident is the new trauma fellow, Dr. Connor Rhodes (Colin Donnell, “Arrow”), who’s in his first day on the job. The cast also includes S. Epatha Merkerson (“Law and Order”) as Chief of Services and Oliver Platt (“Fargo”) as the Chief of Psychiatry.
The show is a generic medical procedural, and it relishes the genre’s tenants; it’s full of the clichés that have defined dramas like “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” There’s a cute male doctor attracting the female staffers, morally ambiguous medical decisions, patients who die and doctors who save their patients in heartwarming fashion. There’s nothing in this show that hasn’t been done better before. The episode’s main story involves a surrogate mother with a critical brain injury. The baby’s parents, who have power of attorney, have to make a decision about a surgery which could save the surrogate’s life, but puts their child at risk. It was too familiar to have an emotional impact. And how many times have medical shows put children in danger? The episode has a little girl come into the ER and go through a death scare. It doesn’t take enough time to establish her as a character instead of a type, which means the story lacks emotional impact and feels too familiar.
“Chicago Med” delivers its exposition in a clunky and forced way, which doesn’t help. Throughout the episode, it uses specific lines of dialogue to relay the backstory of characters. For example, when characters talk to pregnant ER-doctor Dr. Natalie Manning (Torrey DeVitto, “One Tree Hill”), they emphasize that she’s a single mother by saying the line “we’re not going to let you do this single mother thing by yourself.” This type of dialogue hits the viewer over the head with information that, while necessary, could have been delivered in a less on-the-nose manner. Still, the drama showed that it’s capable of revealing character facts without talking down to the viewer. In the pilot’s last act, Dr. Manning is in the locker room looking at a picture of her dead husband and she explains what happened and how much she struggled. This is how you deliver information to the viewer. Show without telling, and maybe lead the viewer to feel something while you’re at it.
“Chicago Med” is not a bad TV show; it just falls into many of the tropes of the medical drama, while not doing anything new with them. The show will attract viewers who like the doctor genre and people who already watch the “Chicago” franchise. However, if a viewer doesn’t find himself within those groups, he shouldn’t bother.