Choking by snake. Sex in a fire truck. A baby trapped in the plumbing. The pilot episode of 9-1-1 wants you to know that this isn’t your mom’s procedural drama. Well, maybe it is. I don’t presume to know what your mom does or doesn’t like. Let your mom live! Regardless, the first hour of this new series attempts to prove itself a step above some of its more wholesome competition.
Overall, the show ends up more glossy than edgy. The acting is very, very good — with a cast led by Angela Bassett, Connie Britton, and Peter Krause, how could it not be? — but the episode delivers some clunky exposition and relies on certain genre clichés. Yes, you’ll have to sit through some lines like “I’m a punk who knows what he lost!” but there are some excellent action sequences. I mean, I never ever (EVER) want to watch firefighters push a discarded premature baby through a pipe, but that entire sequence — cutting between the firefighters saving the baby and Angela Bassett’s Officer Athena Grant attempting to figure out which apartment resident was to blame — was riveting.
Not so riveting? The unfortunate and unnecessary voice-over that bookends the episode. Poor Connie Britton! She doesn’t even say “y’all,” you guys. As a reward for watching her get saddled with such a task, we do get to enjoy her delivery of the line, “Eat your nuggets, get some perspective, and get the hell off my line,” when an idiot caller ends up connecting to Britton’s 911 dispatcher, Abby Clark, with a very important chicken nugget disaster. That’s something. Still, the voice-over cheapens the episode. We get it: We’re watching a show about people who chose to run toward danger. And yes, those people deal with emergencies both professionally and personally. We don’t need the premise hammered home; it’s why we tuned in.
And that’s exactly what this show is: We’re watching first responders save lives while also dealing with turmoil and drama at home. Take Abby Clark, for instance. Abby is more comfortable sitting behind a desk taking emergency calls than she is at home, where she’s a lonely 42-year-old tending to her mother with late-stage Alzheimer’s. It’ll be interesting to see how the show continues to use the 911 dispatcher, the literal first responder, since most of her job is to take the call, pass it off, and hang up before the real rescuing begins.
There’s also Officer Athena Grant, no-nonsense member of the LAPD. In uniform, it’s clear that she’s in control of any situation. She’s tough, she’s brave, and she has exactly no time for hotshot rookie firefighters nicknamed Buck (Oliver Stark).
During the “Baby in a Pipe” rescue, Grant finds the teen mother, who decided to deliver her baby and put it in an open pipe in an apartment being renovated, bleeding out in her bedroom. Grant stops the ambulance that is about to leave for the hospital with Buck and the baby inside. Buck doesn’t think the mother deserves their help after what she did to her child, and if waiting these few seconds to load the mother into the ambulance costs the baby her life, it will be on Grant. Buck has no idea who he’s yelling at. Grant follows the ambulance to the hospital, and once the teen mother and baby are taken inside (this show isn’t a medical show, so we never learn what happens post-rescue), Grant reams out Buck. He’s not allowed to decide who deserves to live and die, he’s reckless, and she is watching him. Don’t mess with Athena Grant, dude!
Unfortunately, at home in her very cozy-looking knitwear, Athena Grant has no control over her current situation. Her relationship with her husband Michael (Rockmond Dunbar) is troubled. Even their two kids notice that Mom and Dad can barely be in the same room. Finally, despite Athena’s pleading not to, Michael explains the situation to his children: He’s gay. They have no plans to get divorced yet, which, um, is complicated. The news does not go over well with the kids. Once alone, Athena lets her husband have it: She’s been humiliated, how could he do this, he’s been lying to her. Michael spits back that as a 37-year-old who desperately wanted kids, Athena was able to look past what she must’ve known from the day they met. It’s like a mini two-person play.
But wait! There is one more very attractive, very sad person risking his life to save people. (Recap continues on page 2)