Choking by snake. Sex in a fire truck. A baby trapped in the plumbing. The pilot episode of 9-1-1 wants you to know that this isn’t your mom’s procedural drama. Well, maybe it is. I don’t presume to know what your mom does or doesn’t like. Let your mom live! Regardless, the first hour of this new series attempts to prove itself a step above some of its more wholesome competition.
Overall, the show ends up more glossy than edgy. The acting is very, very good — with a cast led by Angela Bassett, Connie Britton, and Peter Krause, how could it not be? — but the episode delivers some clunky exposition and relies on certain genre clichés. Yes, you’ll have to sit through some lines like “I’m a punk who knows what he lost!” but there are some excellent action sequences. I mean, I never ever (EVER) want to watch firefighters push a discarded premature baby through a pipe, but that entire sequence — cutting between the firefighters saving the baby and Angela Bassett’s Officer Athena Grant attempting to figure out which apartment resident was to blame — was riveting.
Not so riveting? The unfortunate and unnecessary voice-over that bookends the episode. Poor Connie Britton! She doesn’t even say “y’all,” you guys. As a reward for watching her get saddled with such a task, we do get to enjoy her delivery of the line, “Eat your nuggets, get some perspective, and get the hell off my line,” when an idiot caller ends up connecting to Britton’s 911 dispatcher, Abby Clark, with a very important chicken nugget disaster. That’s something. Still, the voice-over cheapens the episode. We get it: We’re watching a show about people who chose to run toward danger. And yes, those people deal with emergencies both professionally and personally. We don’t need the premise hammered home; it’s why we tuned in.
And that’s exactly what this show is: We’re watching first responders save lives while also dealing with turmoil and drama at home. Take Abby Clark, for instance. Abby is more comfortable sitting behind a desk taking emergency calls than she is at home, where she’s a lonely 42-year-old tending to her mother with late-stage Alzheimer’s. It’ll be interesting to see how the show continues to use the 911 dispatcher, the literal first responder, since most of her job is to take the call, pass it off, and hang up before the real rescuing begins.
There’s also Officer Athena Grant, no-nonsense member of the LAPD. In uniform, it’s clear that she’s in control of any situation. She’s tough, she’s brave, and she has exactly no time for hotshot rookie firefighters nicknamed Buck (Oliver Stark).
During the “Baby in a Pipe” rescue, Grant finds the teen mother, who decided to deliver her baby and put it in an open pipe in an apartment being renovated, bleeding out in her bedroom. Grant stops the ambulance that is about to leave for the hospital with Buck and the baby inside. Buck doesn’t think the mother deserves their help after what she did to her child, and if waiting these few seconds to load the mother into the ambulance costs the baby her life, it will be on Grant. Buck has no idea who he’s yelling at. Grant follows the ambulance to the hospital, and once the teen mother and baby are taken inside (this show isn’t a medical show, so we never learn what happens post-rescue), Grant reams out Buck. He’s not allowed to decide who deserves to live and die, he’s reckless, and she is watching him. Don’t mess with Athena Grant, dude!
Unfortunately, at home in her very cozy-looking knitwear, Athena Grant has no control over her current situation. Her relationship with her husband Michael (Rockmond Dunbar) is troubled. Even their two kids notice that Mom and Dad can barely be in the same room. Finally, despite Athena’s pleading not to, Michael explains the situation to his children: He’s gay. They have no plans to get divorced yet, which, um, is complicated. The news does not go over well with the kids. Once alone, Athena lets her husband have it: She’s been humiliated, how could he do this, he’s been lying to her. Michael spits back that as a 37-year-old who desperately wanted kids, Athena was able to look past what she must’ve known from the day they met. It’s like a mini two-person play.
But wait! There is one more very attractive, very sad person risking his life to save people.
Meet Krause’s Bobby Nash, a captain in the Los Angeles Fire Department. He’s the leader of his very swanky firehouse, his uniform is just tight enough to show off his muscles, and he says things in the vein of “this job is a privilege” a lot. Bobby is great! He’s also very troubled. He’s a recovering alcoholic who returned to the job 18 months ago, after the LAFD put him on leave and sent him to rehab. He goes to church weekly to confess his sins, keep himself in check, and figure out how to cope with the losses on the job in some way that is not booze related. To make things worse, Bobby’s new priest uses Katy Perry’s “Firework” as his ringtone. Hasn’t this man suffered enough?
Bobby spends most of the hour trying to figure out how best to deal with the aforementioned hotheaded rookie, Buck. His fellow firefighters, Henrietta Wilson (Aisha Hinds, more of her please and thank you) and Howie Han (Kenneth Choi, him too!), think Bobby is too soft on the newbie when he only gives the guy an infraction and a stern “three strikes and you’re out” speech for taking the truck in order to land a little afternoon delight. When Buck pulls the same exact move a second time though, Bobby has reached his limit. He is disrespecting the uniform, he is disrespecting women, he is disrespecting all of Los Angeles, basically. Bobby fires Buck.
You know he won’t stay fired for long though, right? In fact, it puts Buck in exactly the right spot to be a hero while the rest of the team is out on a call and he’s left in the firehouse to pack up his things.
The real showcase piece of the episode is the final rescue. Abby gets a call from a 9-year-old girl named Lily who is home alone while her mother is at work (what?). Two men have broken in and she needs help. They’ve just moved into the house so Lily doesn’t know the address. She’s scared. Abby calms Lily down and asks her a few questions in order to narrow down where Lily’s house might be. Technology is crazy, you guys.
Naturally, the responding officer is Athena Grant. Abby thinks they could determine which house is Lily’s if Officer Grant used her sirens — Abby could listen for them and direct Grant to Lily. Grant doesn’t want to tip off the home invaders. Why not use a fire truck instead?
Unfortunately, the only person available to drive said fire truck is the last person Grant wants to team up with: Buck. But there he is, in his civilian clothes. The siren trick works, and Abby leads Buck and Grant to Lily’s house. It’s just in time, too: Lily makes a run for it and gets caught by the robbers. The phone is still on, so Abby, Grant, and Buck can hear everything. As the guys chase Lily, Abby yells for one of the robbers, Petey. She tricks him by pretending to help him get away from the cops in order to save Lily. It’s very convincing. The two guys walk into the backyard, where Officer Grant is waiting to arrest them. Petey makes a run for it and tosses Lily on the front yard. Petey hops on a motorcycle (sure!) and starts firing his gun at Grant (okay!) until Buck blasts the guy with water from the top of the truck and knocks Petey to the ground (there it is). All Abby can do is listen and wait. Finally, Buck gets on the phone to tell her the good news: The suspects were arrested, Lily is safe, and Abby is the real hero today. Aw, Buck!
Abby gets an acknowledging, congratulatory nod from her boss and then gets right back to work. There are more calls to answer and more chicken nuggets to be saved! Officer Grant wistfully watches Lily reunite with her family and calls her husband in what honestly might be the best scene of the episode. Buck rolls into the firehouse ashamed at how lightly he took this job. Bobby believes him to be genuinely sorry, plus he got a call from Athena Grant telling him what an asset Buck was (“I told her she was half right”). Buck is getting another chance. “Under Pressure” plays as all of our major players go about their jobs, because that feels right.
It’s just another day protecting the people of Los Angeles.1 of 1