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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2009-2010 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on either a cut screened to us privately or a copy supplied by a third party NOT a screener provided by the network in question. All were received or screened prior to the networks' official mailings that went out in mid-June.]
(Mondays at 9:00/8:00c starting this fall; TRT: 42:11)
The network's description: "Executive producer Peter Berg (NBC's "Friday Night Lights") delivers "Trauma," the first high-octane medical drama series to live exclusively in the field where the real action is. Like an adrenaline shot to the heart, "Trauma" is an intense, action-packed look at one of the most dangerous medical professions in the world: first responder paramedics. When emergencies occur, the trauma team from San Francisco General is first on the scene, traveling by land, by sea or by air to reach their victims in time. From the heights of the city's Transamerica Pyramid to the depths of the San Francisco Bay, these heroes must face the most extreme conditions to save lives -- and give meaning to their own existence in the process. Starring in "Trauma" are Derek Luke ("Notorious"), Cliff Curtis ("10,000 B.C"), Anastasia Griffith ("Damages"), Aimee Garcia ("George Lopez"), Kevin Rankin ("Friday Night Lights") and Jamey Sheridan ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent"). "Trauma" is a production of Universal Media Studios and Film 44. Berg, Sarah Aubrey ("Bad Santa," "Friday Night Lights"), Dario Scardapane and Jeffrey Reiner ("Friday Night Lights") serve as executive producers. The pilot was written by Scardapane and directed by Reiner."
What did they leave out? Peter Berg mainstay Brad Leland (Buddy Garrity from "Friday Night Lights") turns up in a cameo.
The plot in a nutshell: An accident in which a building worker is electrocuted sets off a chain of events that will lead to the worst rescue disaster in San Francisco history, one which took seven lives in the air and on the ground. One year later, "Naughty" Nancy (Anastasia Griffith) and her "suture circle" of EMTs are still recovering: Nancy lost her boyfriend Terry (Ryan Kennedy) in the crash; family man Boone (Derek Luke) has taken to cheating on his wife, rather than "take it home"; and freshly reinstated helicopter pilot "Rabbit" (Cliff Curtis, channeling Val Kilmer circa "Top Gun") has developed something of a death wish. They'll have to put their demons aside however as a new disaster is about to put all hands on deck: a massive, multi-car pileup caused by some douchebag texting instead of driving. Boone and his partner Tyler (Kevin Rankin) are the first on the scene and manage to keep things under control, that is until a nearby tanker truck explodes and doubles the number of injured.
Thankfully they're quickly joined by Nancy and rookie Bailey (Billy Lush) as well as Rabbit and his new co-pilot Marisa (Aimee Garcia), an Iraq war vet. But it's not exactly a rosy reunion: Rabbit's improbable survival a year ago is a constant reminder of those who weren't so lucky, namely Terry, who was in the copter with him. Two cases in particular however pull their focus to the job: a kid who was hit by shrapnel from the explosion and now needs a tricky procedure to be done mid-flight; and an ID-less fellow who mysteriously collapsed near the accident site. Both are designed to tell you what you probably already can wager: these are talented, driven people who don't give up. Also along for the ride is Dr. Joe (Jamey Sheridan), chief resident of the county hospital, who has higher hopes med school graduate Nancy. And at the end of the day, they make the saves they can. Now if they can just save themselves.
What works: The much-hyped stunt sequences are as big as advertised: helicopters fall from the sky, cars smash into each other and tanker trucks explode with a frightening ferocity. Director Jeffrey Reiner also brings the kind of handheld, free flowing camerawork established on "Friday Night Lights" that always manages to heighten the intimacy and deepen the authenticity of moments both big and small. And in general, there's a nice theme of coming down from the high of EMT work is just as much of a struggle as the work itself. These are people who get amped up by their jobs and can't just unwind with a beer and some late-night television.
What doesn't: It's unfortunate then that the characters aren't particularly engaging. As the reviewing cliche goes, "there's nothing here you haven't seen before." Girl whose personal loss causes her to overcompensate at work. Check. Guy who turns his survivor's guilt into a full-fledged death wish. Check. Guy who'd rather let the job destroy him than pierce the perfect bubble he's placed his family in. Check. They're all character archetypes straight off the procedural conveyor belt. Even worse, their various struggles come across as either foolishly selfish or eye-rollingly transparent. Boone can't tell his loving wife about that horrible day a year ago so his method of release is to troll for strange at accident scenes? Really? Rabbit can't accept he survived so he's going to throw caution into the wind at every opportunity, even if it endangers the lives of his co-workers? Really? Nancy can't see that she's wasting everyone's time and resources to save someone everyone knows is dead? For supposedly smart, talented people they come across as surprisingly short-sighted. And while that may be the point, boy does it leave a bad taste in your mouth after watching.
The bottom line: A hot start quickly fizzles away.