Not so hot is Fire Country.
The ride-or-die camaraderie that makes other shows in this category intriguing is missing from the CBS drama.
Sorry for what’s about to happen, but firefighter dramas have never been hotter. There is at least one of each of the four major broadcast networks: 9-1-1 and 9-1-1 are on FOX. The newest programme from former Grey’s Anatomy producers Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, Fire Country, joins Lone Star, Chicago Fire on NBC, Station 19 on ABC, and Lone Star on CBS.
But unfortunately for CBS, a network that has finally recognized the profitability of other types of first-responder dramas, Fire Country turns a promising premise—an inmate firefighter seeking redemption (and a reduced prison sentence) in his rural hometown—into another run-of-the-mill procedural that fits in with most of the eye network’s middle-of-the-road, scripted shows but pales in comparison to its major (and better) competitors and predecessors. The show’s first two episodes feel constrained by the conventions of its crowded genre and hardly pioneer any new characterization techniques, introducing a painfully thin set of characters who lack the chemistry required for weekly appointment television despite the sizeable scale of its emergencies, which is a commendable achievement in visual effects.
Bode Donovan, a young prisoner who was turned down for parole, enrols in a firefighting programme in Northern California where he and other prisoners work alongside skilled firefighters from Cal Fire to put out wildfires throughout the area in the movie Fire Country, starring SEAL Team’s Max Thieriot. Bode is unknowingly transferred to Three Rock Con Camp, a training facility and home base for inmate firefighters, located in his gossip-filled hometown of Edgewater, two years into a three- to five-year sentence. Bode is forced to face the dark secrets that motivated him to leave the small hamlet five years earlier when he is unable to get relocated (because why would he be?).
Together with Phelan and Rater, Thieriot, who also acts as executive producer, created the series based on his memories of growing up in Northern California. By and large, the pilot does a good job of establishing the show’s important characters, and their links to Bode will become increasingly evident by the end of the hour. However, it periodically veers into melodramatic terrain with soapy plot twists that might catch some casual viewers off guard.
Its grandiose scope, however, is undermined by the show’s structure. A nearby fire station is run by Vince (Billy Burke), who is married to division chief Sharon, and Three Rock Con is run by Manny (Kevin Alejandro), who has a particular relationship to the camp. In contrast, other firefighter shows exclusively focus on one firehouse (Diane Farr). At first glance, the choice to divide the departments makes sensible. However, the ride-or-die camaraderie that makes other shows in this genre so compellingly lacking from the show as a result. After all, people will turn in for the lavish emergencies, but they will only continue watching if they can relate to the various character dynamics. So far, Jake and Eve (Jules Latimer), two firefighters from Vince’s tiny station who are still mourning the loss of a close friend named Riley, are the only ones who really have any semblance of that relationship. Jordan Calloway from Black Lightning saves the show from falling flat by playing Jake in this role. In all honesty, Jake and Eve are both more interesting than Thieriot’s Bode, who appears to be much more interested in acting the hero and defying his bewildered captain than expressing anything of substance.
It might be argued that the entire idea of the show could have been changed. The writers could have easily created a show around Bode and the other prisoners who are working and learning on the job with him—some of whom are more interesting than him as well—especially given that, after all, this show is a tale of “redemption” despite the numerous connections they have established between Bode and the neighbourhood Cal Fire department. By investigating characters who seek to atone for their past wrongdoings by saving lives, Fire Country would at least have been able to develop the lacking feeling of teamwork.
Why does Bode’s quest for redemption just concern him? And why is the programme so reluctant to remark on the state of mass incarceration or the moral dilemmas surrounding using jail labour to help battle a climate crisis, especially in light of the fact that other shows are eager to incorporate real-world themes and concerns? Instead of concentrating on one thing, Fire Country tries to be both Three Rock Con and Cal Fire, which makes the show seem cliched and half-baked in comparison to other shows of its kind now airing. It wouldn’t be appropriate to refer to the most recent firefighter drama on television as a flame-out; rather, it feels more like a crash and burn.