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Premiering new series is always something of a gamble, and networks can never know for sure what will flop and what will fly. Over on NBC, however, there’s a franchise that seems to be getting bigger and better than ever as each year passes. Franchise launcher extraordinaire Dick Wolf – apparently having run out of letters to suffix after Law & Order - has brought his golden touch to Chicago. Beginning with Chicago Fire in 2012 and continuing with Chicago P.D. in 2014, the franchise has expanded even further with latest spinoff Chicago Med.
The new show features an ensemble cast of characters working in the newly revamped emergency room of a Chicago hospital. Starring Oliver Platt as Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Daniel Charles, Torrey Devitto as pregnant ER pediatrician Dr. Natalie Manning, Colin Donnell as trauma fellow Dr. Connor Rhodes, Rachel DiPillo as nervous med student Sarah Reese, Nick Gehlfuss as Dr. Will Halstead, Yaya DaCosta as nurse April Sexton, and S. Epatha Merkerson as chief administrator Sharon Goodwin, there’s plenty going on at any given time.
Created by Dick Wolf and Matt Olmstead, Chicago Med is basically ER. Also on NBC, also set in a Chicago emergency room, and also featuring an ensemble cast, ER ran for 15 seasons. Considering that Season 15 came to a close back in 2009 and NBC has been able to ride Dick Wolf’s train of franchise success in recent years, the network apparently felt that it was time for another go at an ER -type series for primetime television.
Now, an ER-esque feel is not a bad thing for any new series. The show was a huge critical and popular hit in its prime, and audiences have been responding well to NBC ensembles in recent years. Still, the series premiere of Chicago Med might have felt more just vaguely ER-ish than super ER-esque if there had been more to distinguish it from other medical dramas filled with cries for units of O-neg and CT machines. The first episode was written with some excellent emotional moments, but it felt by the final moments that every emotional beat except for one featuring a kitchen sink had been thrown in for maximum tear-jerking. There was everything from an adorable little girl with a broken leg to a comatose man with an engagement ring hidden in his bag to a pregnant woman with a severe brain injury being cared for by a pregnant doctor.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t depth to each of the many impassioned bits. The premiere showed the Dick Wolf touch as each smaller storyline did manage to begin and complete a journey of its own, but there was a sense that the episode was ticking off a list of heartstrings to pluck as the hour progressed.
Of course, none of the emotional beats would have worked at all without performances to back them up, and the cast of Chicago Med established personalities of their own that helped to somewhat separate Chicago Med from other hospital dramas. The actors elevated some of the more generic character writing and connected the slew of plots into one cohesive narrative. A highlight was Oliver Platt as the Chief of Psychiatry, and Colin Donnell as Dr. Rhodes has just the right amount of charm to sell the stereotypical cowboy doctor with a heart of gold as a character with layers to him. The nurses, however, brought the real heart, and Yaya DaCosta as April Sexton made the most of her screentime.
Aside from everything imaginable being thrown into the plot of the series premiere, the writing was rather good. A problem that plagues many pilot episodes is finding a way to organically exposit information about the characters and premise. Chicago Med was wonderfully sneaky in establishing the background as it set up the future, rather than dumping a slew of information all at once. Introducing the characters as they deal with the trauma of a train derailment was the perfect way to squeeze plot and character development into a single hour of television, and the balance bodes well for the future.
Luckily, the series premiere of Chicago Med did not try to coast on the buzz from its backdoor pilot that aired on Chicago Fire in spring of 2014. Thus far, the series stands on its own, and no knowledge of either Chicago Fire or Chicago P.D. is necessary to get on board with Chicago Med. Hopefully, Chicago Med will continue to stand on its own and will find a way to distinguish itself from other hospital dramas in the future.
Chicago Med will air on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.