After conquering multiple aspects of law and/or order — special victims, criminal intent, trials by jury, as well as crimes in both Los Angeles and the UK — Dick Wolf has moved on to exploring the world of emergency personnel in Chicago: police officers, firefighters, and medical professionals.
Chicago Fire, was a big enough hit to inspire the spinoff Chicago P.D., which in turn inspired Chicago Med, premiering tomorrow on NBC. With the exception of Chicago Fire (because there just aren’t that many other fire-department shows), these are all somewhat generic representatives of their respective genres, but each has its highs and lows — and each is, at best, easily watchable.
And that’s the best thing that can be said about Chicago Med, too: It is harmlessly watchable, to the extent that I will most likely watch this entire season in five-episode binge bursts. There is nothing that sets the show apart from the billions of past or current medical dramas (though its pilot is slightly better than Code Black‘s). It opens with a disaster: during the grand opening of Chicago Med’s emergency room, a train derails in Chicago — on that trauma doctor Connor Rhodes (Colin Donnell) happens to be on. This sets up the fast-paced, busy, and overwhelming rush of the ER as well as the slightly less urgent cases that resonate with the doctors (and are supposed to resonate with viewers).
We’re quickly introduced to the main hospital crew. There is the aforementioned Connor, who is ruggedly handsome, tattooed, and calmly stitches up his own injuries while the nurses lust over him. (He is pretty irresistible: “He speaks Spanish!” I swooned out loud to no one while watching, right before a lovestruck nurse echoed the same sentiment.) Oliver Platt plays Daniel Charles, part of the psychiatry department, who has a strong bond with a young patient who needs a transplant. Natalie Manning (Torrey DeVitto) is a pregnant single mother and pediatrician who is deeply affected by — what else? — a pregnancy case. Will Halstead (Nick Gehlfuss) is the Chief Resident and the most overt connection to Chicago P.D., as he’s the brother of one of the detectives. There is a Brazilian nurse, April (Yaya DaCosta), and the obligatory medical student, Sarah (Rachel DiPillo), and so on and so on.
The episode is dramatic and overwrought (as the vast majority of medical drama pilots are), with an “emotional” storyline involving a pregnant woman whose life is in the hands of the couple whose baby she’s carrying. They must decide whether they want to agree to a procedure that could help the woman or ensure that the baby will be OK (as the woman basically acts as a human incubator hooked up to machines). The biggest reason for the inclusion of this plot is to develop Natalie’s character, who obviously has a big emotional attachment to the baby because of her own pregnancy and maternal instincts. It also generates a lot of legal talk — “It’s so much easier to run a hospital without doctors,” says the requisite hard-ass who cares more about money than lives — and, well, if you’ve seen any medical show, you can guess how the entire episode plays out from there.
The question is: Is this predictability a bad thing? The premiere is full of easy-to-guess plots and character traits that we’ve seen before — done both better and worse than they are here. And the standout elements, though they exist, are few: Platt’s sensitive portrayal, the show’s… its setting, maybe, to be generous? Everything, right down to the medical professionals unwinding at the bar after a long and busy shift, seems routine. But isn’t that sort of the point of medical dramas, and procedurals in general? Most times, when we tune in to shows like Chicago Med, we’re not looking for something that reinvents the wheel — we’re looking for something that makes that wheel just a little shinier as it rolls on, in circles, for years.