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Watching the first five minutes of TRAUMA, there were moments I may have actually forgotten to breathe! What seemed to start out as a typical let’s-get-to-know-the-characters scenario quickly evolved into an action-packed, adrenaline-rush roof rescue complete with terrific special effects. While most medically-oriented shows take place inside the hospital and revolve around events and what happens to patients once they get past the sliding double doors, TRAUMA lets us experience the events surrounding the scene of the accident before those patients get through those sliding double doors (and before we have any need for a scorecard to keep track of which doctor and nurse are sharing a bed for the week).
Certainly any type of show such as this will immediately conjure comparisons to worthy predecessors such as “Third Watch” and the venerable veteran “ER” (or even Emergency for those old enough to remember). And while such shows must certainly share some elements by definition of their subject matter, it is up to each show to add it’s own unique flair and identity and thus differentiate itself from the pack. TRAUMA differentiates by being driven by the action taking place at a pace reminiscent of edge-of-your-seat excitement, instead of focusing on being character-driven, as are many of these dramas. This isn’t to say that we don’t get to know the characters or come to care for them, thanks to the charisma of the actors, but their trials and tribulations are not front and center — at least not yet in this pilot episode. And while you can stay a step ahead of some of the action in the old I-know-what-happens-next! mode, the pace, camera angles, and actors still manage to give you a rush.
One look at the Fall TV schedule and it would appear that we are overrun with procedurals of the CSI/Law & Order/NCIS type or some type of hospital show. With Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and newcomers Mercy and Three Rivers, one wonders if there is space or attention span left for yet another medical show. And for a show like TRAUMA, the answer is yes. Fresh characters, fresh locales, and action sequences imparting a feature-film feel add up to a very entertaining hour. It may not be as gritty as “Third Watch” or medically accurate as “ER”, but it is still worthy of your time to watch since Executive Producer and Writer, Dario Scardapane, offers a solid introductory script. There were a few faux pas in the pilot, such as some medical inaccuracies and an awkward sex scene involving the back of an ambulance, but I can overlook those in favor of wonderful photography and set design. There were also times that the editing felt a bit choppy as well, and I wondered if that was intentional or if this Pilot was designed to be a 2-hour special that got reduced. I have a hunch that it may have worked much better as a 2-hour pilot.
Characters include the smart-A, daredevil flight medic Reuben “Rabbit” Palchuk (Cliff Curtis), Iraq veteran helicopter pilot Marisa Benez (Aimee Garcia), man with a heart and family, paramedic Cameron Boone (Derek Luke), EMTs Tyler Briggs (Kevin Rankin), Glenn Morris (Taylor Kinney) and paramedic Nancy Carnahan (Anastasia Griffith). Each character must deal with their own internal traumas while taking care of the external situational ones. But the first episode does not spend an extraordinary amount of time on their backstories — the action is the focus as we are given just enough information about these people to help us understand their motivations, flaws, skills, and contributions to the team. No doubt we will get deeper into the lives of these characters as time progresses since no series can exist on action alone. And there is another uncredited character of sorts: the city of San Francisco, which offers a fantastic backdrop, not to mention breathtaking HD aerial views featuring the Transamerica Tower, downtown skyline, The Embarcadero and the Golden Gate Bridge. I can’t wait to see a few more iconic tourist attractions such as Golden Gate Park and Alcatraz too. Unlike other shows which film a few exterior shots while doing most of their work on a Los Angeles sound stage, TRAUMA is filmed entirely in The City, making good use of locals as background extras, and including real police and fire personnel for those roles as well. The last time we were treated to the real streets of San Francisco was while watching Nash Bridges!
The test will be whether it can find its niche in an over-crowded Monday night as it faces competition from FOX’s “Lie to Me”, CBS team of comedies “Two and a Half Men” and “Big Bang Theory”, and ABC’s competition-crushing “Dancing with the Stars”. At least CW can rest easy knowing that teen girls are not likely to veer away from their “Gossip Girl”. More and more, the networks appear to be making it harder for the audience to enjoy their favorite shows live, but in an age of online viewing and DVRs we can have our cake and eat it too. I just hope that there are enough live viewers in order for these new shows to find an audience before they are quickly whisked away. At any rate, NBC is showing some confidence by ordering at least half a season of episodes.
If you missed the premiere of TRAUMA and want to treat yourself to likeable characters, wonderful eye-candy photography, and exciting action, do not hesitate to catch it online and then add it to your live viewing schedule.
Final Grade: B
“Trauma” airs Mondays at 9:00 pm on NBC.
Photo credit to NBC/Mitchell Haaseth