James Croot is the editor of Stuff to Watch.
OPINION: “I really thought this year was going to be different.”
It’s an utterance of complete exasperation from Robert “Bobby” Nash (Peter Krause), captain of the LA Fire Department’s 118 and one of the twin leading lights of perhaps America’s craziest network drama.
Yes, amongst the plethora of preposterous police procedurals and melodramatic medical dramas, 9-1-1 (returning for a fifth season on Monday, May 2 on Three and Three OnDemand) is maybe the maddest – and most maddening – of all. Every episode plays out like a Michael Bay disaster movie crossed with a telenovela, as the city and our heroes lurch from one crisis to the next. Twists and dramatic character arcs are terribly telegraphed, villains are one-dimensional at best and the writers have definitely overused the “how this member of the team got their start” and the “beginning with the end of the story” narrative devices.
9-1-1 is known for its sometimes crazy scenarios.
* Shining Girls: Apple’s mind-bending thriller offers more reasons to love Elisabeth Moss
* We Own This City: The Wire’s David Simon makes a compelling return to Baltimore
* Our House: Jaw-dropping opening leads to solid thrills in TVNZ’s latest Brit drama
* 1883: Amazon’s visceral, violent Yellowstone prequel presents an even wilder west
And yet, despite the seemingly endless carnage, both visually (to the City of Angels and its inhabitants) and to the art of storytelling, once dipped into, it is hard not to get hopelessly addicted to 9-1-1.
Created by the fiendish minds behind everything from Glee to American Horror Story and Scream Queens, it boasts the same slickness, high production values and self-awareness that made those shows sing and develop a devoted army of admirers.
Each week, the team of firefighters, cops, paramedics and emergency call centre operators will be put through the emotional ringer before emerging with a wink and a smile – to each other and the audience (although there will often be a deliberate “scar” created to be picked up down the line).
In a way, with all the explosions, bust-ups and talk of family, this is the television equivalent of the Fast and Furious franchise, a belief backed up by the increasingly over-the-top scenarios the 118 find themselves in. Having already faced earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, serial mail bombers and snipers, in season five’s opening episode, it’s a ransomware attack that brings Los Angeles to a standstill.
GPS systems start sending cars into canals, LAX’s air traffic control is suddenly running blind and deaf and hospitals are without power. While that situation escalates to the point at which zoo animals run rampant downtown (naturally the show’s opening gambit), 9-1-1’s dramatic ace is facing her own personal nightmare.
In a thread carried over from the end of last season, the serial rapist who attacked LAPD patrol sergeant Athena Grant (the truly magnificent Angela Bassett, who sells even the most lunatic or lunk-headed of scenarios with her “take no prisoners, suffer no fools” approach to everything thrown at her) is now on trial on the same day that the city’s electronic systems are melting down. Naturally, the fiendish and manipulative Jeffrey Hudson (Noah Hudson) has decided to represent himself, puts Athena on the stand and proceeds to bring up every indiscretion from her long career (including that time a season or so ago when she threatened the teenage girl who was bullying her daughter that we always knew as going to come back to haunt her).
And, if all that’s not enough for you, still fresh from nearly dying at the hands of a sniper, firefighter Eddie Diaz (Ryan Guzman) has a worrying panic attack in a department store and call centre worker Maddie Buckley (Jennifer Love Hewitt) – who is both the sister of another member of the main ensemble and the partner of another – is seriously struggling with post-natal depression. Expect to see more of these as the season progresses, even as the city miraculously returns to normal operations next week. Environmental clean-up is something that happens off-screen and virtually never talked about.
In truth, picking apart 9-1-1’s quirks and exposing its shortcomings is one of the true joys of watching the show. It’s interactive viewing of the best kind and as you and your viewing partner(s) try outdo each other on guessing what will happen next, snort in stereo at the more florid storylines and dialogue and giggle at the sometime wild over-emoting, all while becoming hopelessly entangled in the lives and loves of the regulars onscreen. That the cast – occasionally at least – seem to be in on the fun, just makes it even more satisfying.
As one says during Monday night’s opener: “Is this the end of the world?”
“When is it not?” comes the deliciously deadpan reply.
Season 5 of 9-1-1 debuts on Three at 8.30pm on Monday, May 2. Episodes will also be available on ThreeNow. The first three seasons can be found on Disney+.