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Fire Country isn't so hot

The CBS drama lacks the ride-or-die camaraderie that makes other shows in this genre compelling

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Kevin Alejandro as Manny Perez in Fire Country
Kevin Alejandro as Manny Perez in Fire Country
Photo: Bettina Strauss/CBS

Firefighter dramas have—apologies for what’s about to follow—never been hotter. The four major broadcast networks all have at least one: FOX has 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star, NBC has Chicago Fire, ABC has Station 19, and CBS now has Fire Country, the latest show from former Grey’s Anatomy producers Tony Phelan and Joan Rater.

But unfortunately for CBS, a network that has finally recognized the profitability of other types of first-responder dramas, Fire Country turns a promising premise—an inmate firefighter seeking redemption (and a reduced prison sentence) in his rural hometown—into another run-of-the-mill procedural that fits in with most of the eye network’s middle-of-the-road, scripted shows but pales in comparison to its major (and better) competitors and predecessors. Despite the sizable scale of its emergencies, which is a commendable achievement in visual effects, the show’s first two episodes feel bound to the conventions of its overcrowded genre and hardly break any new ground in terms of characterization, introducing a painfully thin set of characters who lack the chemistry necessary for weekly appointment television.

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Fire Country stars SEAL Team’s Max Thieriot as Bode Donovan, a young convict who, after being denied parole, decides to join a firefighting program in Northern California where he and other inmates work with elite firefighters from Cal Fire to extinguish wildfires across the region. Two years into a three-to-five-year sentence, Bode is unwittingly assigned to Three Rock Con Camp, a training program and home base for inmate firefighters located in his gossipy hometown of Edgewater. When he’s unable to get reassigned (because why would he be?), Bode is forced to reckon with the sordid secrets that led to his decision to leave the small town five years prior.

Thieriot, who also serves as an executive producer, used his experiences growing up in Northern California to co-create the series with Phelan and Rater. By and large, the pilot, which occasionally veers into melodramatic territory with soapy plot twists that might take some casual viewers by surprise, does a decent job of introducing the show’s key players, and their connections to Bode will become increasingly clear by the end of the episode.

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The show’s structure, however, undermines its ambitious scope. Whereas other firefighter shows focus on only one firehouse, Fire Country has two: one at Three Rock Con led by Manny (Kevin Alejandro), who shares a special connection with the camp, and another at a local fire station headed by Vince (Billy Burke), who is married to division chief Sharon (Diane Farr). The decision makes sense, at first, to separate the departments. But in doing so, the show sorely lacks the ride-or-die camaraderie that makes other shows in this genre so compelling. After all, viewers will tune in for the extravagant emergencies, but they will only stick around if they can connect with the different dynamics between the characters. So far, the only real semblance of that relationship comes from Jake (Black Lightning’s Jordan Calloway, who stops the show from completely falling flat) and Eve (Jules Latimer), two firefighters from Vince’s very small station who are still grieving the loss of a mutual close friend named Riley. Jake and Eve are frankly both more compelling than Thieriot’s Bode, who seems far more interested in playing the hero and undermining his baffled captain than saying anything of substance.

Fire Country (CBS) Trailer HD - firefighter drama series

One could argue that the show’s entire premise could have been tweaked. While they have established numerous bonds between Bode and the local Cal Fire department, the writers could have easily built a show around Bode and the other inmates who are working and learning on the job with him—some of whom are more interesting than him as well—especially considering that, after all, this show is a tale of “redemption.” That way, Fire Country would have at least been able to cultivate the missing sense of teamwork, while exploring folks who are looking to atone for their past transgressions by saving lives.

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Why does the search for redemption only apply to Bode? And considering that other shows are willing to incorporate real-world issues and concerns, why is the show so reluctant to make any comment on the state of mass incarceration or the ethical concerns of using prison labor to help combat a climate crisis? Instead of narrowing down its focus, Fire Country attempts to have one foot in Three Rock Con and another in Cal Fire, making the show feel half-baked and hackneyed compared to similar ones on the air right now. To call television’s latest firefighter drama a flame-out wouldn’t be accurate; it feels more like a crash and burn.