The first episode of “Trauma” is one of the most impressive-looking pilots of the fall, featuring a couple of pretty fantastic action sequences and lots of lovely footage shot on location in San Francisco.
But it’s probably the show that will end up looking the least like its pilot when it settles into a weekly groove — the demands of turning out a new episode every week almost certainly means that those action scenes will have to be scaled back some. So it’s even tougher than usual to judge what the series will be like based on one episode.
Should “Trauma” be able to keep up the pace, if not the scope, of its pilot, it could be a fun, amped-up take on the medical drama. But because the premiere (which airs at 9 p.m. ET Monday) is so action-packed, it crowds out some of the character development you might hope for. We get to know a couple of the principals, but other regulars are barely sketches.
The show opens with what seems like a normal day, with San Francisco paramedics rolling out for a call atop a high-rise building. Things quickly go sideways when the medevac helicopter picking up the patient collides with another chopper, sending debris showering over the people on the rooftop and both aircraft careening into the sides of skyscrapers.
That all serves as a prologue to the main story, which picks up exactly one year later. It’s clear that paramedics Cameron Boone (Derek Luke) and Nancy Carnahan (Anastasia Griffith) haven’t yet fully dealt with the accident, but they’re both back on the job and doing their usual good work. The jury is still out on Reuben “Rabbit” Palchuk (Cliff Curtis), a cocky flight medic who was in one of the helicopters and is just returning to the job, where he’s paired with new pilot Marisa Benez (Aimee Garcia), an Iraq war veteran.
They’re all called to a spectacular freeway pileup (director Jeffrey Reiner, the regular helmer for “Friday Night Lights,” stages the crash so that viewers almost feel like they’re part of it), with the requisite explosions and close calls treating victims in the field before they’re taken to the hospital.
It’s a fantastic set piece — and one that the show can’t possibly replicate on a weekly basis. Where the show could have some promise is what comes afterward, where we get to see how the work and the lingering effects of the helicopter disaster affect the characters. Cameron has shut himself off from his family and, it’s strongly implied, cheated on his wife; Nancy has thrown herself into her work; and Rabbit has both a God complex and a death wish.
Curtis, a New Zealander whose credits include “Live Free or Die Hard” and “Push,” is the immediate standout in the cast. He has enough charisma to allow him to carry off an arrogant character without making him a jerk. Luke (the feature version of “Friday Night Lights”) and Griffith (“Damages”) also get a couple of moments to shine.
There are other regulars, including Kevin Rankin and Taylor Kinney as EMTs and Jamey Sheridan as the head of the ER at San Francisco City Hospital, but they’re so incidental to the story in the premiere that I had to consult NBC’s press materials to learn their characters’ names.
“Trauma’s” conceit of showing how patients are treated before they get to the hospital is a good one; it’s at least something we haven’t seen as often in the medical-show genre. But adrenaline will only carry the show so far, and the show needs to find a better balance between its action and its character elements.
Follow Zap2it on Twitter for the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.