Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sirens: "Pilot" and "A B... Named Karma"

Denis Leary has done many things pretty well: stand-up comedy, acting, writing, and producing. His series about the FDNY, Rescue Me, ranks high on my list of all-time favorite TV shows; it was brilliantly acted, raunchy, genuinely moving, and funny as hell. (Except for the entirety of Season 4, which I like to pretend never happened). When I heard he was helming a new project called Sirens, I expected nothing less than a wild, wacky journey into the equally wild and wacky world of EMS. Last week's 2-episode premiere left me sadly underwhelmed.

I was surprised to see that it was not set in New York City like Leary's previous shows The Job and Rescue Me and expected perhaps Boston since Leary is a Massachusetts native. Sirens takes place in the largest city in Illinois. Perhaps to avoid lawsuits and/or fan confusion from the Chicago Fire camp, the EMTs of Sirens are employed by a private ambulance service (like Nicolas Cage in Bringing Out the Dead).

The three main characters are perpetually horny and commitment-phobic Johnny, a gay black paramedic named Hank, and new kid on the block Brian. Almost immediately, a classic Leary show plotline unfolds: Johnny is still smitten with his police officer ex Theresa and is scheming of a way to get her back. There's none of the delicious and sometimes downright cruel animosity that existed between Tommy and Janet Gavin, Rescue Me's main couple in the same situation. Theresa and Johnny seem less like a couple on the rocks who still have passionate love and hate for each other than two people who never really had any chemistry in the first place. It's hard to put into words, but there's just something genuinely unlikable about Theresa's character (even though Johnny is far from a prince).

This awful story does lead to a funny moment in the pilot. Johnny and the crew are at a bar having drinks after work when Johnny decides to spy on Theresa's date that night. He and Hank pile into an inebriated Brian's Subaru station wagon; Brian insists on joining them and there's some funny banter back and forth.

A second classic Leary subplot worked much better, at least for me: The crew's rookie is incredibly stupid, but also kindhearted and ridiculously good-looking. Rescue Me's version of this character was Mike "Probie" Silletti, played with nuance and style by Michael Lombardi. Sirens gives us Brian Czyk, played by babyfaced Kevin Bigley. Like Mike, Bryan still lives at home, though, as Brian points out, "They live upstairs, I live downstairs. Whole separate floor." He's especially adorable in the bar scene as he says that whiskey makes him "wanna dance...naked." When Johnny and Hank take his car later, Bryan rides in the backseat sans clothing.

"A B... Named Karma", the second episode of the series, introduces us to the station's two female medics: a blond nicknamed Voodoo for her love of blood and guts and a redhead nicknamed Stats for her encyclopedic knowledge of all things medical. Johnny and Hank have free tickets to a Bears game, but their supervisor has volunteered them to teach a CPR class to a group of kids in a local park. The guys drag Brian along and try to speed through the lesson to get to the stadium, but they keep getting stopped by constant questions from the kids. One of my favorite parts of this exchange is a kid who asks "Why didn't you save Michael Jackson?" One of the medics replies "Because he lived in California." Johnny has to rely on the tiresome Theresa for help when one of their students decides to steal the ambulance.

While Sirens had its moments, I can't help but feel like something's missing. I think it would've been smarter on Denis Leary's part to get the show on FX, where you can get away with a lot more than you can on USA, home of the perpetual NCIS/SVU marathons. Maybe I'm comparing it too much to its predecessor. In absolute honesty, I'll still probably tune in at 10 PM tomorrow night because I've fallen in love with Brian. He is, as my sorority sisters would say, just precious.

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