9- 1- 1 res­cues fa­mil­iar for­mula

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - News - BY RICK BENT­LEY TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

A pop­u­lar genre over the decades when it comes to cre­at­ing a new tele­vi­sion show has been any­thing to do with the lives, loves, lusts and lu­nacy of be­ing a first re­spon­der. It’s an easy for­mula be­cause the chal­lenges for the he­roes are gen­er­ally self- con­tained sto­ries where the au­di­ence gets the weekly sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing a job well done.

Since the con­cept is so ba­sic, what makes this kind of show a suc­cess or fail­ure comes down to the cast. As long as there are one or two char­ac­ters who grab the viewer’s at­ten­tion with such ver­bosity they are will­ing to com­mit to reg­u­lar view­ing, the showwill sur­vive.

In the case of the lat­est of­fer­ing in this fa­mil­iar genre, the new Wed­nes­day night Fox se­ries “9- 1- 1,” the pro­duc­tion has three pow­er­ful rea­sons to watch: An­gela Bas­set, Peter Krause and Con­nie Brit­ton.

The three star in the se­ries, which ex­plores the high- pres­sure ex­pe­ri­ences of po­lice, paramedics and fire­fight­ers who con­stantly are thrown into emer­gency sit­u­a­tions.

It all starts with the sim­ple ques­tion of “9- 1- 1, what’s your emer­gency?” The an­swer leads to each week’s chal­lenges both in sav­ing lives and deal­ing with events go­ing on in their own per­sonal worlds. Along with be­ing he­roes, the three ac­tors get to play strong char­ac­ters who are all deal­ing with ma­jor events away from the world of car crashes, po­lice chases and rag­ing fires.

When it comes to Bas­sett’s char­ac­ter of Det. Athena Grant, she is a no- non­sense mem­ber of the po­lice force who de­mands as much per­fec­tion from those around her as she does of her­self.

At the same time she’s deal­ing with the dan­ger­ous world of life on the streets, Grant also is try­ing to han­dle all the changes that come when her hus­band makes a ma­jor an­nounce­ment.

The char­ac­ter must be played with an in­cred­i­ble amount of in­ten­sity, and Bas­sett han­dles that with ease. The role is el­e­vated be­cause Bas­sett has the skills to be both an in- your­face de­fender of the law as well as a strong but vul­ner­a­ble wife and mother fac­ing a brave new­world.

Krause plays Bobby Nash, a re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic who has got­ten his life back to­gether de­spite hav­ing a job where fail­ure is a real pos­si­bil­ity.

He needs to hold his own life to­gether while han­dling a team of fire­fight­ers with their own wild mix of per­son­al­i­ties. It’s nice to see Krause tak­ing on this kind of pa­ter­nal role that will give him a lot of emo­tional ar­eas towork.

Then there is Brit­ton, who makes TV shows bet­ter just by be­ing in the cast. Her char­ac­ter of Abby Clark has the high pres­sure job of be­ing able to find out from peo­ple in a panic what emer­gency has re­sulted in them di­al­ing the three num­bers. Clark has her own prob­lems deal­ing with her mother’s med­i­cal is­sues, but that has to be pushed aside once she sits down at the com­mu­ni­ca­tions desk.

Brit­ton brings strength and com­pas­sion to ev­ery scene, whether it be tak­ing a small child to safety dur­ing a home in­va­sion rob­bery or han­dling her mother.

As for the­world they­work in, there are al­ways vari­a­tions on the emer­gency themes. But when the gim­micks of what caused the 9- 11 call are stripped away, the teams are re­spond­ing in the same way crews have from “Adam 12” to “Chicago Fire.” The writ­ers do crank up the weird­ness in the open­ing episode, in­clud­ing an emer­gency call about a new­born baby in dan­ger that comes very close to the ab­surd.

But, a steady dose of stan­dard car crashes or rob­bery at­tempts would not keep the at­ten­tion of an au­di­ence who has other choices in the genre on other chan­nels. One thing is cer­tain, with Ryan Mur­phy (“Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story”) as one of the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers, al­ways be ready for a dif­fer­ent take on the tra­di­tional.

The three star­ring ac­tors are rea­son enough for the se­ries to sur­vive, but the struc­ture keeps it from reach­ing its full po­ten­tial. The weak­ness of “9- 1- 1” is the three main stars are in­volved with dif­fer­ent as­pects of an event. While Bas­sett and Krause can end up in a scene to­gether, Brit­ton will al­ways be on the out­side look­ing in.

Not hav­ing her di­rectly in the mix with the other two ac­tors— through more than just a tele­phone call — will al­ways re­sult in a story that falls short of its full po­ten­tial. In this case, even com­ing up short is enough to make “9- 1- 1” a good call.

Oliver Stark (“Into The Bad­lands”), Aisha Hinds (“Shots Fired”), Ken­neth Choi (“The Peo­ple v. O. J. Simp­son: Amer­i­can Crime Story”) and Rock­mond Dun­bar (“Prison Break”) also star.

MICHAEL BECKER- FOX / WASHINGTON POST

Con­nie Brit­ton stars in the new Fox se­ries “9- 1- 1.”

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