After a pilot that was chock-full of exposition and potential plot-points, the follow-up 2nd episode of NBC's 'Chicago Fire' proved that there isn't a very strong engine beneath the gorgeous frame of this vehicle. While the cast remains competant and the action is present, the second episode of 'Chicago Fire' failed to introduce any new elements and simply reiterated the character points we saw in the pilot--as such, after a mere two episodes, 'Chicago Fire' has already begun spinning its wheels.
I promise, no more vehicular metaphors.
It is apparent while watching the series that the creators were hoping to recreate the casual camaraderie amongst the fire house that we saw through several excellent seasons of 'Rescue Me.' You could blame the network show being shackled to a PG rating, but the banter between fire fighters on 'Chicago Fire' is lacking the same realism that kept our attention collectively rapt to the fire fighters on Dennis Leary's show. While the actors are doing their best, an hour-long running gag about the appearance of a goat on the Fire House's crest got old about the second time it was brought up (not to mention the fifth).
Happily, the plot of episode two is more manageable than the first, without the need to burden the viewer with introduction after introduction. The major intra-ensemble elements are touched on, if not moved forward: Gabriela's (Monica Raymund) feelings for Matthew (Jesse Spencer) are teased once again but the pair have little interaction. Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett) continues to be the butt of House jokes as the rookie recruit. Most frustratingly, Drug-addict Kelly Severide (Taylor Kinney) requests nondescript narcotics from paramedic Leslie (Lauren German), which Leslie inexplicably supplies. There is no scene detailing why Kelly requires these narcotics (does he experience physical pain? From what trauma? His chisled physique appears flawless, after all), nor are we told why Leslie would risk her career to illegally enable his addiction.
The entirety of the second episode of 'Chicago Fire' centers around the character of Kelly Severide and yet somehow there is absolutely no change nor development of his character by the close of the hour. Severide never speaks of his thoughts or emotions on anything to do with the plot and, as such, the viewers are left wondering why he requires illegal drugs, guessing what he feels about the failed rescue attempt that gripped the show earlier, and essentially trying to read his mind. The parallels between the drug-addiction of Taylor Kinney's 'Kelly' and the alcoholism of Dennis Leary's famous 'Tommy' are obvious, yet there is a fatal flaw in 'Chicago Fire's recreation: Kinney does not have any of the charisma of Dennis Leary.
Kinney's Kelly Severide is an emotionless mannequin, face unchanging regardless of the events around him. At the triumphant return of their house mate Herrmann (played by the lovable David Eigenberg), Severide's expression is the same as when he is consoling a collapse-victim on his death-bed. Just as we have no clue why he has turned to drugs, we are not told why the single bachelor Kelly spurns the advances of an attractive co-worker--there appears to be a reason below the surface, but once again, below the surface is right where it stays. Surely these elements of Severide's character will be revealed in later episodes, but in the interim we cannot grasp the character, making it difficult to root for him. We cannot read into Kinney's portrayal of Severide and, as such, none of the emotional impact of Severide's scenes manage to hit the mark.
As I said in my review of the first episode, the tools for a hit show have been collected here by NBC brass, they simply aren't being used to their full potential. Judging from the 22% ratings drop-off from the first episode to the second, there are members of the audience who agree with me. With stiff timeslot competition being delivered by 'American Horror Story: Asylum,' 'Chicago Fire' is going to have to pick up the pace if it wants to last beyond six episodes.
The most successful action-dramas on television (including mammoth hits like 'The Walking Dead') manage to blend their plot elements with character motivations; aside from Gabriela's unspoken feelings for Matthew, there are no character motivations or desires present in 'Chicago Fire.' Aside from a sense of duty, all wants have been drained away.
Y'know what 'Chicago Fire' is great for, though? Beefcake.
You can catch 'Chicago Fire' on Wednesdays at 10:00pm EST on NBC. But you may not want to.
FINAL GRADE: C-