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‘9-1-1’ best when it sticks to the emergencies

December 28, 2017

The team of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk has created a lot of provocative television - “American Horror Story,” “Nip/Tuck” and “Scream Queens,” just to name a few.

So when I heard the duo was taking on the world of first responders in the new FOX drama “9-1-1,” I was sure the show would be a doozy. Imagine my surprise when I found “9-1-1″ to be just another run-of-the-mill procedural with an incredible cast that deserves better.

“9-1-1” follows the experiences of police officers, paramedics and firefighters in Los Angeles both on the job and off.

Athena Grant (Angela Bassett) is a police officer who is tough as nails while on the beat, but struggling to keep her family together at home after her husband (Rockmond Dunbar) reveals a huge secret. Bobby Nash (Peter Krause) is a firefighter working to keep his life together after years of struggling with alcohol and drugs.

Evan “Buck” Buckley (Oliver Stark) is a young, impulsive firefighter who can’t seem to stay out of his own way. And Abby Clark (Connie Britton) is the 9-1-1 operator who gets the first responders where they need to go, but longs to find out what happens once the call is disconnected.

In the premiere, the crew rescues a baby from a strange situation as well as a woman being strangled by her snake, and a home invasion allows Abby to play the hero.

Meanwhile, Athena struggles to help her children deal with the tensions between her and their dad, Abby cares for her mother, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and Bobby confronts Buck over his use of a fire truck to pick up women.

When the show stays focused on the job and the various emergencies, it can be fairly compelling. It’s when it takes us home with the characters that it runs into trouble.

The personal storylines are meant to be shocking - Athena’s husband’s secret (which I won’t spoil here) and Buck having sex in his fire truck - but they come off as forced and unnecessary.

And that’s a shame, because the cast deserves a much better show.

Krause is perfectly cast as the lead firefighter and the moral compass of the show, and Britton is excellent as the thread that connects all the emergencies together. Bassett is good as a cop, but is surprisingly over-the-top with the personal scenes as she tries a little too hard to sell the stories.

“9-1-1” does have the potential to improve as the emergencies get more interesting and the personal stories even out. But it will need to do it quickly, or else it - and Fox - will find itself with a ratings emergency.

“9-1-1” premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, on FOX.

Angela Henderson-Bentley writes about television for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact her at ahenderson-bentley@hotmail.com.