Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide, Jesse Spencer as Matthew Casey...

Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide, Jesse Spencer as Matthew Casey in "Chicago Fire." Credit: NBC

THE SHOW "Chicago Fire"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Wednesday night at 10 on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT An alarm goes off at Firehouse 51, sending both the firefighters and rescue squad off to the scene of a house fire that's not quite out of control. The firemen, led by Lt. Matthew Casey (Jesse Spencer), break through an upper-story window, just as the rescue squad, led by Lt. Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney), goes through a door on the bottom floor. The simultaneous entrances create an explosive updraft, killing a fireman inside. A grudge is born between mourning Casey and a defiant Severide -- neither of whom accepts responsibility for the fatality. That's tonight's pilot setup, but there's much more going on because Chicago's 51 -- run by tough Battalion Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker, "Oz"), a former Golden Gloves champ -- also houses a paramedics squad. As such, it's a roiling place full of differing agendas where people must still work -- day and night -- as a team.

MY SAY Once there was a time when TV audiences couldn't get enough of this kind of brawny workplace ensemble drama, full of peril, competing egos (and libidos) and fraught personal lives. Producers John Wells ("ER," "Third Watch") or Dick Wolf (he does the honors here) were maestros of the genre, and the result was great TV, often right here on NBC. But tastes -- along with the landscapes that forge them -- change, which is a big challenge for this expertly produced newcomer. All the right elements are exactly where you'd expect them to be: The gruff, hard men who never met a razor they liked, and who sprinkle their edgy patter with just enough firehouse jargon to almost make you smell the smoke on their bunker gear; the beautiful paramedic who's more competent than the attending at the hospital but has to put up with gender bias just to get the job done; the terrible accidents that place people -- usually children -- in terrible danger until they're pulled from the edge of catastrophe at exactly the right second. In the right hands -- and the hands are the right ones here -- it can be riveting TV.

BOTTOM LINE "Chicago Fire" definitely has familiarity going for it and familiarity going against it as well. (Yes, you've seen this before.)


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