When the premiere episode of NBC’s new drama Chicago Fire came to a close, I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed — disappointed because I actually found myself not hating the show. Let me explain: it’s not that I was truly rooting against it, it’s just that I had already come up with a handful of negative review headlines too fantastic to pass up:“Chicago Fire Will Make You Stop, Drop, and Roll Your Eyes”
“Chicago Fire Is All Smoke and Mirrors”
“Chicago Fire — Give It the Axe, NBC”
“Chicago Fire — Hose It Down, NBC”
“Chicago Fire — The Cubs of Television Shows”Such a missed opportunity. Still, it’s not as though the series doesn’t have its kinks. Set in some major North American city (I wanna say Sheboygan?), the pilot introduces us to the beehive that is the focal firehouse, complete with a team that makes it highly evident that the setting has a pulse.
The atmosphere of the firehouse is palpably alive, thanks to the range of characters and relationships found within. At the center of the series are devoted, cares-too-much paramedic Gabriela (Monica Raymund), eager newbie Peter Mills (Charlie Barnett), and feuding colleagues Casey (Jesse Spencer) and Kelly (Taylor Kinney), both torn up over the recent loss of a fellow firefighter. Individually, Casey and Kelly deal with their own respective problems (marital separation and some undisclosed illness), but are driven to keep one another aware of the ever present animosity shared all throughout the episode.
Other major characters include a stoic Batallion Chief Wallace Boden (Eamonn Walker), grappling with a decision to play out the rest of his career in the quiet, apparently “fire-free” community of Deerfield, but seems unprepared to leave his cherished professional family behind — especially in light of at least two divorces weighing him down emotionally. Also in management, the compassionate District Chief Lynn Fitori (Merle Dandridge), enveloped in an ostensibly secret affair with one of her subordinates.
The rest of the team consists of acerbic paramedic Leslie (Laurie German), whose homosexuality is introduced via a prank at the expense of newcomer Mills, plus hard-on-his-luck griper Herrmann (David Eigenberg), firehouse shlamazel Otis (Yuri Sardarov), motor mouth Cruz (Joe Minoso), and losing-his-edge Mouch (Christian Stolte). And that’s the team.
It seems imperative to mention the lot of them — even those whose roles in the pilot are far from extensive — since it is the character of the firehouse community that keeps the episode afloat. The action sequences — fire rescues and attendance to injured parties — might have somewhat of an edge over a lot of what we see on police procedurals, but aren’t unique enough to sustain a program. The individual relationships — Casey’s and Kelly’s stubborn enmity or Casey’s strained marriage with wife Hallie (Teri Reeves) — might build over time, but also don’t offer a great deal of standout appeal. What makes Chicago Fire’s pilot work is the flavor of its bullpen.
The camaraderie, as evidenced by the low notes — the communal mourning of a recently deceased firefighter (whose widow also seems to be set up as a recurring character) and the entire team’s union in a hospital waiting room after another is injured on the job — as well as the high ones — the gang goofs on punching bag Otis, pranks newcomer Mills, dines on Casey’s home cooking, and travels together to watch Chief Boden take on the police officer who stole his ex-wife in a traditional firefighters versus cops boxing match — is vivid; enough to believe that these people work, play, and survive together.
Of course, the flaws of the pilot might only be for lack of opportunity to flesh them out adequately, as is the hazard of an introductory episode in nature. We might see more character imbued in the personal relationships, more impressive turns for the action sequences, and more remarkable depth drawn into the individual members of the squad overtime. But for now, the show does have one thing going for it, and it’s enough to encourage a return for at least the second episode.
And it’s such a shame, too. “Stop, Drop, and Roll Your Eyes” would have been hilarious.
[Photo Credit: Matt Dinerstein/NBC]
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You may remember when, in February of 2009, Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Two Lovers) stumbled awkwardly onto David Letterman's couch and proceeded to babble incoherently for an intensely awkward ten minute interview. (Video below) The respected actor, twice-nominated for an Academy Award, appeared disheveled, possibly on drugs, with a scraggly beard and dark sunglasses hiding his presumably glazed eyes. He mumbled uncomfortably, claimed he was leaving acting to pursue a hip-hop career, and grew antagonistic when Letterman suggested he might be kidding. The Late Show host tried to make the best of it, closing the cringe-worthy interview with "Joaquin, I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight..." drawing forced, uncomfortable laughs from the audience.
But it's starting to look like the joke was on us. Magnolia Pictures has just acquired the rights to I'm Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix, a mockumentary documentary from Phoenix's brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, who is making his directorial debut. The movie is ostensibly a portrait of the actor at a crossroads in his career, as he leaves acting to reinvent himself as an absurdly bearded hip-hop artist.
Those who speculated after Phoenix's appearance on Letterman that the actor must have been "up to something" can now presumably give themselves a pat on the back: it's increasingly looking as though the actor's bizarre behavior was all part of a Borat-esque, performance-art type stunt. Still, it's not entirely clear to what extent Phoenix's 'transition' was real - perhaps the actor really did have some kind of meltdown - and Casey Affleck and Magnolia Pictures are trying to keep it a mystery.
However, a source who recently worked with Phoenix told Entertainment Weekly that the actor had privately admitted "It’s a put-on. I’m going to pretend to have a meltdown and change careers, and Casey is going to film it." Another source confirmed that "It’s an art project for him. He’s going full out. He probably has told his reps that he’s quit acting. Joaquin is very smart. This is very conscious. He has a huge degree of control."
But Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles is defending the film. "It is going to get a lot of attention, but it is not some cheap stunt where they said, ‘Let’s do some wild stuff and film it.’ It is extreme behavior but really good filmmaking as well. Frankly, some of the behavior is very extreme. But it is in the context of the insanity of being in Joaquin’s life for that period of time. It is a unique piece of work that is going to surprise people in different ways."
The studio's press release was equally enigmatic: "Magnolia Pictures announced today that it has acquired world rights to Oscar-nominee Casey Affleck’s directorial debut, I’M STILL HERE, a striking portrayal of a tumultuous year in the life of internationally acclaimed actor Joaquin Phoenix. With remarkable access, I’M STILL HERE follows the Oscar-nominee as he announces his retirement from a successful film career in the fall of 2008 and sets off to reinvent himself as a hip hop musician. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, and always riveting, the film is a portrait of an artist at a crossroads. Defying expectations, it deftly explores notions of courage and creative reinvention, as well as the ramifications of a life spent in the public eye."
But a number of other studios were far less receptive. Deadline reports that "Some [distributers] walked away turned off or confused. They weren't sure if this was an Andy Kaufman-like hoax, or a great actor's meltdown." However, Magnolia Pictures is giving the documentary a platform release on September 10th, with plans to go wide on the 17th, despite scenes involving Phoenix snorting coke off a prostitute's breast, full-frontal male nudity, and someone defecating on the actor while he sleeps.
This could potentially be the strangest career-reboot and/or performance-art stunt in cinema history. Until we see the film, there's no way to know whether Affleck's documentary (and Phoenix's 'performance') will amount to some kind of brilliant commentary on celebrity culture or a mind-bogglingly weird flop. Then again, some critics will likely call this 'art,' so it can always be claimed that the public just 'didn't get it.' Hoax or no, I, for one, am excited to find out what Affleck and Phoenix's have up their sleeves.
Sources: EW, Collider, Deadline