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Some of the most popular shows on television have traditionally included the medical drama. Aside from police work of detectives audiences have been tuning in to their favorite medical series ever since TV became the center piece of living room decor. In 1972 Jack Webb, creator and star of one of the classic police shows ever, ‘Dragnet’ broadened his scope and produced a new series that followed the working lives of the other uniformed protectors of society; the fire department. At the time in Los Angles and many large American cities the Fire Department was greatly expanding their ability to serve the public. Instated of being restricted to putting out blazes and routinely performing amazing rescues some firemen received training as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) and Paramedics. This paved the way for first responders to do more the scoop an injured or sick person up and rush them to the hospital. Now extra precious minutes can be gained by initiating life save procedures right there on site in the field. There is no dispute to the fact that programs like this have saved thousands of lives since its implementation. The strange thing is although several attempts have been made to depict the exploits of the fire department on television to date no series have remotely approached the longevity or popularity of similar shows based on medical or police personal. This is something that has always eluded me. I have always been in awe of firemen; an opinion bolstered my marrying the daughter of a fire chief.

For some reason TV has never managed to capture admiration of these professionals and create a series that can last. ‘Emergency’ is the one notable exception enduring for seven seasons but other attempts have faded out before their time. The case in point here is a little one season wonder, ‘Trauma’. The series had all the requisites for a hit; drama, action, romance and plenty of medical jargon tossed around to spice up the dialogue. ‘Trauma’ was a contender for the regrettable ‘cancelled before its time list with only eighteen episodes to establish its self. The strength of this show contributed to its premature demise; the use of an ensemble cast. While this did open the stories up to explore a broader range of themes and more varied character development eighteen episodes proved to be insufficient to lay the proper foundation for a larger than normal principle cast. The diversity afforded by this group of characters was much richer than usually found in a weekly TV show. What binds them together is their jobs; working as paramedics and EMTs in the San Francisco area. This brings them into contact with the usual medical series archetypes like doctors and nurses but sets the action against the entire city and surrounding area. This range is extended by the inclusion of a helicopter rescue team to supplement the normal ambulance runs. This also provides the introduction of the first two primary characters; Marisa Benez (Aimee Garcia) and Reuben 'Rabbit' Palchuk (Cliff Curtis). In the first episode Rabbit barely survives a helicopter crash that kills several people. The series really opens with him returning, prematurely, to work. He is an adrenaline junkie more than willing to take extraordinary risks to perform a rescue. He is also very intelligent and well versed in medical procedures even those beyond the accepted ones for a paramedic. His partner and pilot Marisa is a veteran recently returned from combat in the Middle East. Rabbit is a Lothario who has worked his way through most of the female staff at the hospital but is in the process of establishing a stable relationship with fellow paramedic Nancy Carnahan (Anastasia Griffith). Her father is a top surgeon at the hospital who expected her to follow in his footsteps as a doctor. Nancy did graduate medical school but went into the paramedics instead of her residency. Her father’s best friend, Dr. Joseph Saviano (Jamey Sheridan), is in charge of the emergency room. Her partner is EMT Glenn Morrison (Taylor Kinney), an aspiring author trying to write a book about being a paramedic. He is involved with a young doctor taking her ER rotation, Diana Van Dine), Scottie Thompson. Rounding out the crew is New Orleans EMT, Tyler Briggs (Kevin Rankin) and his partner paramedic Kevin Rankin (Tyler Briggs).

The helicopter scenes may have contributed to cost overruns but to the producers’ credit they were judiciously used. There was a nicely maintained balance between the constituent elements of the series. There is plenty of action to go around but not to the exclusion of the character driven stories. There was a texture to this approach ranging the humanistic plot points from subtle dealings of parental expectations to how Kevin reacts when he discovers that Tyler is gay. That plot device is overused of late but here it was properly handled with the right tongue in cheek touch. Another topic that runs through the series is post traumatic stress disorder. The most serious display is with Rabbit compounded by a case of survivor’s guilt. This character was taking shape as one of the more complex than you usually see on broadcast TV. His psychological profile was shaping up well with him desperate to create a ‘normal’ relationship with Nancy.

The acting exhibits a degree of control and nuance not frequently seen in a drama like this. The cast is excellent and the writing above par making it a shame the network was so short sighted in a premature cancellation. It’s another case of quality not being sufficient to carry a series. Perhaps one day firemen and paramedics will have their day but unfortunately not at this time.

Posted 08/12/11

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