The show follows three pairs of paramedics in San Francisco: Nancy and Glenn, Boone and Tyler, and Marisa and Rabbit. Four ride in ambulances, while Marisa and Rabbit fly in “Angel Two,” a medevac helicopter. The characters aren’t particularly innovative, but the clichés aren’t too bad: Glenn Morrison is the new guy, so green he fainted at the sight of a severed arm in the last episode, while partner Nancy Carnahan is a jaded M.D. who prefers paramedic work to the hospital (though the reasons why aren’t exactly clear). Cameron Boone is a recovering womanizer struggling to avoid a divorce; Tyler Briggs is some sort of gypsy medic, having worked in cities across the country, including New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Marisa Benez was a combat helicopter pilot in Baghdad who’s good with machines but not so much with people, and Reuben “Rabbit” Palchuck is the cocky, slightly unhinged medic she flies. Rabbit and Nancy have good reason to be a little standoffish or prickly: the pilot begins a year before the rest of the series, when a devastating two-helicopter crash killed Nancy’s partner and boyfriend, Terry, and left Rabbit, apparently the crash’s sole survivor, in a coma.
Our heroes deal with several small incidents and a medium or large call before the end of each episode—I think that’s why I like it so much: they don’t try to squeeze 60 minutes of drama (with commercials!) out of one or two cases. House became so formulaic that I abandoned it halfway through last season. Here, when you hit the twenty minute mark, you’re not just waiting for the new, bizarre symptom to show up. In a given episode, the EMTs might be dealing with a spinal injury or a fake heart attack, or Boone might be in marriage counseling with his wife (yawn). It’s different every week. Score one for Trauma.
Also? I LOVE EXPLOSIONS. I loved when [spoiler] the hotel went boom at the end of Quantum of Solace[/spoiler] and that HUGE ambulance explosion on the fourth season premiere of Criminal Minds where for all of ten seconds I thought they’d actually killed off Shemar Moore. The Trauma premiere has a fiery helicopter crash and an oil tanker explosion. Michael Bay is probably a fan of Trauma, too.
There’s much less soap-opera personal life angst than you’d think—it’s not overwhelming, since they tend to condense all the characters’ issues into about five minutes of show, after you’ve come down from the adrenaline rush of all the fireballs and rescues and LIFE OR DEATH DECISIONS OMG. Whoever writes this show does a decent job of keeping the melodrama to a minimum—on the personal front. Plus, they’ve got Jamey Sheridan. Who doesn’t like (and still miss!) Captain Deakins and his eyepatch on Law & Order: Criminal Intent? Sheridan is eminently likeable as Dr. Joe Saviano, the ER doctor who coordinates with the medics in the field.
Here’s the downside: I’ve heard the ratings are dismal (it’s on against the amazing The Big Bang Theory and the underwhelming Gary Unmarried on CBS, the second hour of Dancing with the Stars on ABC, and a personal favorite, Lie to Me, on Fox), and they’ve taken to rerunning it on Saturdays in an attempt to get more viewers. Hulu’s even stopped promoting new streaming episodes on the front page. My point? I’m surprised NBC, with its history of doing such things, hasn’t pulled the rest of the new episodes from the air and made them online-only à la The Black Donnellys.
Besides the poor ratings, there’s apparently been some sort of kerfuffle about how the show inaccurately and/or negatively portrays emergency medical personnel. My response—both as a writer and as a TV viewer—is that this isn’t a documentary. It’s a television drama. There are some things that don’t translate from reality to the small screen (why do you think reality shows are scripted?) and a show like Trauma is going to amp up the action as much as possible. Why? Entertainment. I don’t watch television because I want a perfectly accurate depiction of real life (news programming and PBS excepted). I watch because I want to be entertained, so I can stop thinking about what will happen if I never find a job, or if I shouldn’t drink quite so much Coke, or how I haven’t called that one friend in about five months and we’re probably not even friends anymore and it’s kind of my fault, or WHATEVER. It’s escapism at its finest, and if I choose mediocre TV, then that’s my decision. Now, if someone did a television show about employees at an archival library and didn’t show them using acid-free materials and taking special measures while handling archival materials to ensure the preservation of the items in the collections, I might be a little chagrined, but I wouldn’t get all up in arms about it. Basically, what I’m saying to the upset medical workers is this: RELAX, IT’S JUST TELEVISION. The folks who work on TV shows like Trauma are going to use their creative license to punch up reality into something resembling reality, but with prettier people with terrible love lives. And bigger explosions.
So here’s hoping the rest of the season’s episodes make it onto the air. Or, rather, onto Hulu, where I watch it, since my family’s watching Dancing with the Stars.
C’est la vie.