After a re-run winter hiatus break where I watched some Teen Wolf and changing my list to be more reflective of the shows actually airing now, TV Roulette is back. It was fun writing two weeks in a row about a show, but with all the television options there are out there now, I do wonder if that’s as necessary for most shows (with some notable exceptions) as opposed to the one-off nature of TV Roulette, which gives a chance for me to recommend if a show is worth watching as opposed to simply analyzing a specific show to pieces. Who knows at this point, but I am happy to be back to fickle chance, which this week urges me to visit NBC’s Chicago Med. Dick Wolf has rebuilt his television empire around the city of Chicago, so let’s see how the medical branch of his new ‘verse measures up right after the rundown.
Spoilers Likely Ahead
TV Roulette Week 12
Chicago Med; ‘Saints,’ Season 1, Episode 07
January 26th, 2016
Have I Seen This Show Before?
If So, How Much?
Four episodes. I don’t really have a good explanation why. I popped in for the pilot purely out of loyalty to Arrow alum Colin Donnell, and then watched everything before the winter break. Sometimes inertia and a show being good enough keeps me watching until I find other things to do.
I really wanted a Chicagoverse show to be picked for TV Roulette some week, to the point that if it hadn’t I probably would have just written something about this regardless. Why? Because this show should not exist. None of the Chicago shows should.
Let’s go back a bit first. Dick Wolf is an institution. Very few people have made the procedural work in the way he has. The foundation of this is the Law & Order franchise, which, questions of quality aside (for me; Kyu loves this entire franchise to an almost absurd degree), is a massive success that has spanned multiple shows over decades. But the years have not been kind to the franchise recently. After the great success in the 90s of the original Law & Order and SVU in the 90s, and continuing into the 00s with the addition of Criminal Intent, the franchise began to run out of steam somewhere in the mid-2000s. Part of this is that newer entries in the franchise never quite caught on with audiences. Trial By Jury (2005) failed completely even though it had a rather strong cast, including Jessica Chastain as a bit player (which I just found out on IMDB, and now my mind is blown) and star Jerry Orbach, who moved from the original Law & Order to this show but sadly died in the middle of shooting. Orbach’s death seemed like a harbinger, the moment the franchise’s influence began to wane. Procedurals began to take their cues more from CBS’s CSI (itself a multi-show franchise), and Wolf’s own attempt to slightly break away from his own formula, Conviction (2006), lasted only one season (though I’ll admit I find that particular show underrated). Wolf took time off from the Law & Order universe until 2009, when he outsourced the program to the UK; but it wasn’t until 2010 that Wolf returned stateside with Law & Order: Los Angeles. This seemed like a no brainer, but it also failed to gain any real traction, and was cancelled after one season. Criminal Intent ended soon after, followed by the original Law & Order. The Wolf television empire was reduced to nothing but SVU. It had appeared that TV had simply passed him by, and his run at the top was coming to an end.
Then in 2012, Wolf changed tactics. Instead of another Law & Order series, he decided to move away from police and lawyers and instead focus on fire fighters. More importantly, he decided to focus his attention on fire fighters in Chicago. The prospects for this show appeared mixed at best, but it proved quite successful, and look primed to really break out in its second season, which spawned a spin-off, Chicago P.D. The Chicago-verse was on a roll, and both shows’ continued success led to another spin-off, Chicago Med, and not surprisingly, now Chicago Law has been greenlit as well. Considering NBC’s struggles to do any sort of comedy show at this point, or really anything that is not either procedural, pulpy (aka The Black List or Blindspot), or The Voice, there is a good chance that Chicago Law will not be the last of these Chicagoverse spin-offs, so everyone should be prepared for these to be a part of your life for quite some time.
Backstories aside, what has really made the Chicago shows unique is the way in which they are all interconnected. Wolf has long done this in the Law & Order franchise’s universe (and others considering John Munch is also a part of the universe), as he was one of the pioneers of the TV crossover. The thing is, most of the time these crossovers were special events that happened maybe once or twice a season at most. These Chicago shows are different, as members from each one regularly appear in the other shows to demonstrate how interconnected the lives of police, firefighters, EMTs, and doctors are in Chicago. There are major crossovers as well, but on a regular basis the shows casually bleed into each other. This has led Dick Wolf to want to allow the entire Chicago franchise to be considered as one ensemble for awards purposes. No franchise–other than to some extent the DC Television Universe on The CW (and even that is much more spread out) or Marvel’s Netflix Universe (notice a theme with those two?)–has figured out how to make multiple shows so interconnected on a regular basis. This is a truly impressive feat, and if nothing else, Dick Wolf deserves credit for once again pushing forward how television shows interact with one other.
That’s all well and good, but how was the damn show? It’s alright. Hospitals are inherently interesting settings for television shows because there is always drama to be found with doctors, injuries, sickness, and death. This allows any hospital show to operate like a procedural as different patients and cases go in and out each week, and although one particular episode might be bad, the cases are always naturally compelling. That means a lot of what dictates good or bad episodes is how much room there is for character growth and interaction in storylines, and how well cases of the week are used to express themes or messages. Different hospital shows achieve the right balance in different ways. When Grey’s Anatomy is on its game, it’s able to figure out the best way to wring character drama out of a situation (well, and by putting its doctors in absolutely bonkers situations). During ER‘s run, it was always more about the hospital itself (with notable exceptions). Chicago Med tends to lean more toward ER‘s example (and not just because it happens from a trauma ward), and focuses more on being a workplace drama. Sure, it has various storylines for each of its characters, but the main focus is on finding situations for the characters to act around, instead of creating situations through character interaction.
This week’s episode of Chicago Med, ‘Saint’, was a mixed bag. Some of the storylines work, others fell flat, and one particular storyline managed to do both. That one involved a carjacking that ended in a young couple getting t-boned by the stolen car. The storyline is the key way this episode involves the Chicago ensemble, as characters from Chicago P.D. guest star, including Jay Halstead (Jesse Lee Soffer), the brother of one of the male leads in Chicago Med, Dr. Will Halstead. The parts of the storyline that work well are those that blend detective work and medical know-how, as Dr. Halstead tries to figure out why the carjacker committed the crime and how he got injured. This works because it allows the show to illustrate how doctors are committed to their patients, no matter who that patient may be. It’s a fairly effective plot–until the reveal comes that the patient has cancer, and is getting arrested so that he can get proper health care in jail. This is where Chicago Med‘s worst quality emerges: its politicizing. There is nothing wrong with taking a political stance on a show, but Dick Wolf has always struggled with how best to do this. Wolf’s shows are often unsubtle, and while that can make for effective drama, when it comes to political statements it just feels clunky and heavy-handed. Listening to Will explain statistics about healthcareto his brother derails all momentum from the storyline, everything grinding to a stop to make it clear you are watching a TV show. Chicago Med is mostly at its best when it doesn’t dwell too much on any given moment, but instead constantly reinforces the chaotic nature of being in an emergency room.
I say mostly because the other strong part of the episode is the storyline involving a patient needing a bone marrow donation. Part of this is because it allows S. Epatha Merkerson, best known for her long and excellent run on the original Law & Order, to shine as Chief Administrator Sharon Goodwin while she feuds with the hospital over whether the patient should be allowed to receive the marrow donation after the patient’s brother raises money for the donor. Paying people for bone marrow is a big no-no, so it puts the hospital in quite the bind. Once again, Wolf oversteps and makes things a bit too heavy-handed. The hospital and by extension their lawyer act like straw man villains, spouting off legal precedence in a show about doctors. But the core works, because Merkerson brings a great amount of gravitas to her role and in doing so helps make all of this good TV, even if parts of it are a little wobbly. Also because, unlike with Will’s storyline, the main thrust of what is happening is clear the entire time: saving lives should matter more than the fine print of the law. This is an idea you can build around, and ‘Saint’ mostly does a good job of doing so.
One of the main issues with a show like this is that it generally has quite a large cast, and because of that, the story is at times stretched too thin for each character to get some amount of screen time, let alone a proper storyline. Chicago Med still seems to be struggling to figure out how best to allocate time to each important character, and has yet to embrace the fact that its cast is so much an ensemble that sometimes the only presence one of the characters needs in an episode is an acknowledgment that they are working. This really would have benefited Dr. Connor Rhodes (Colin Donnell) and Dr. Sam Zanetti (Julie Berman) in this episode, which starts out well enough as the two demonstrate their chemistry by flirting in the operating room (super inappropriate conduct, yes, but also super entertaining). This leads to Dr. Rhodes realizing that Dr. Zanetti hurt her arm, and needs to have it looked at. Zanetti does, and gets benched from surgery. This leads to a scene where she and Rhodes get into an argument about the best way to do a surgery that he has to perform in her place. There is a lot of good stuff to be done here, as Zanetti clearly has issues with letting others perform surgeries for her, while Rhodes was being a condescending, insubordinate ass. Both were in the wrong, or at least the limited screen time made it look that way; but the resolution is basically Zanetti admitting Rhodes was right, without him also apologizing for getting mad that she told him how to do the surgery, and the two of them going off to dinner. It is a frustrating storyline, and really the episode could have done without it, or at least fleshed it out enough to make it clear that Zanetti was in the wrong. (Or they could have had them both apologize, which would have been a more even-handed but lazy writing choice independent of screen time issues.)
Overall, ‘Saints’ is an okay episode of television. It is certainly watchable, and while nothing particularly special happens in it, there’s nothing egregiously bad, either. I was certainly reminded why I had watched the first four episodes: this show is pleasant enough, and full of just the right of amount of tension to keep things interesting. Still, it did feel a bit more uneven than normal, and that made the overall episode suffer. But Chicago Med‘s existence in general earns Dick Wolf a tip of the hat, because figuring out how to tap into television that resonates with people after appearing to have lost his touch is supremely impressive, and deserves the highest commendation.
Notes and Observations:
- So I know previews are supposed to pop out at people to get them to watch, but the one for this week is so ridiculously inaccurate that the person who made it should be fired.
- Like, every part of that promo is wrong. The stated conflict is not the main conflict of the episode, and isn’t even a conflict at all, as the dude didn’t kill anyone. A lot of the voiceover is from the end of the episode when the two brothers are have a simple, not so serious conversation. Like, this promo is just lying to people. Seriously, mega fail, NBC.
- The storyline about the couple in the crash being on their first date and becoming much closer thanks to the accident is strangely sweet. But I appreciated the show acknowledging that establishing such a connection through trauma is not some magical thing that will guarantee their relationship will last.
- Will and Natalie’s (Torey DeVito) flirtation is also sweet, and moving at just the right pace.
- Oliver Pratt’s portrayal of Dr. Daniel Charles is always one of the best parts of the show. Maybe I am just tired of seeing psychiatrists and psychologists on television being so over-the-top, but man, his understated style and ease of talking to people make him feel like a real person. I wish more shows would take the less is more approach with those that work in mental health. If nothing else, Platt deserves recognition for making a storyline about whether saints are simply sick people feel like it isn’t ridiculous.
Episode Grade: B-
Would I Watch More?
Maybe. If it’s on and I have nothing better to do, I would likely give an episode a watch. Certainly not DVR material, but I am somewhat partial to medical shows for whatever reason, so I could easily see myself watching this again.
Should You Be Watching It?
This is not an essential show by any means, or even a really good show, but anyone who simply wants to be entertained for a block of time without having to think too much about what is happening or what has already happened in the show should give it a try. It is super watchable without having seen a single episode beforehand–a casual show that can be a good break from all the high concept superhero, zombie, pulpy, sci-fi, and Game Of Thrones shows on television now. Just be prepared for the heavy handedness of Dick Wolf to slap you in the face at least twice an episode.
That’s it for this week’s TV Roulette. It was fun looking into the Chicagoverse, and I look forward to seeing what is next. See you next week, and until then, remember that sometimes kindness is just brain damage from a stroke.