When you hear the words Dick Wolf, procedural drama, and firemen you may not automatically think strong female characters, but you would be wrong. Chicago Fire is one of the best shows out there for women and you should be watching it.
The hour long procedural drama focuses on the job experiences and personal lives of the (mostly) men and women that work at Fire Department firehouse of Engine 51 in Chicago. Now, in classic Wolf style, the show is filmed on location which provides a great sense of realism (just as his Law & Order shows were known for) and usually focuses on three or four different plotlines per episode. Two usually revolve around an actual fire or emergency and the others are more personal.
Now, if you are looking for a show with hot, brave male firemen this show has certainly got it. Jesse Spencer, who plays Lieutenant Matthew Casey, never really did much for me on House, but on this show I literally swoon when he comes on screen. And then there is Taylor Kinney, sometimes boyfriend of Lady Gaga, and just all around extremely handsome man. He plays the often brooding Kelly Severide (I mean, you have to be extremely hot to pull off that name) and though he is your classic womanizer/loner, he is a nice guy at heart. There is a great supporting cast with some men you will recognize including David Eigenberg (Steve on Sex & the City), Charlie Barnett and Jeff Hephner (who often plays hot firemen.) And Wolf has done a good job of highlighting their stories which include PTSD from the Iraq war, infidelity, political campaigns and family members in gangs.
But the really exciting part of the show is with the two main female characters: Gabriela Dawson (Monica Raymund) and Leslie Shay (Lauren German). They play paramedics and best friends. But not like annoying best friends. Like best friends who have each other's backs which they actually literally have to do all the time. In the pilot these women were held up at gunpoint and in a particularly dark episode in the second season a patient that was obsessed with Shay shot himself in front of both of them after almost shooting her. Shay went through a dark time after that and the two friends did have a falling out. When Dawson finally did reach out it wasn't corny, it was just what needed to be done.
Both actresses are beautiful, but pencil skirts and high heels are nowhere in sight on this show (not that tough women don't wear those.) But these women are here to do their jobs and their looks are not the focus. Though Dawson has had two relationships with her male coworkers they are thoughtful and planned out. Her relationship with Casey has gone through ups and downs but the journey has been riveting. Shay, who is a lesbian, mirrors Severide in some ways in her womanizing (this season at least) and it is kind of fun to see a woman like that on the small screen, much less not cable.
Professionally, these characters also are both great at their jobs and extremely ambitious. Both of them will do anything when they have a patient on their rig even if it means not following the rules. Though she is a kick-ass paramedic Dawson toyed with the idea of being a doctor in the first season, but during the fall finale this season we found out she had applied to be a firefighter. This brought up a great discussion in the house about whether female firefighters are as capable as male ones. The sentiment seemed to be from the men that they weren't as strong so it was hard, but Dawson pointed out that women had other strengths such as being small enough to fit into tight spaces.
It was really exciting to see this argument play out especially when it came to Casey and Dawson. Casey was supportive of female firefighters but didn't want his new girlfriend to rush into it without talking to some vets. When Dawson announced to the firehouse that she got into the academy, it presented their first real challenge as a couple. I don't think we are seeing other couples deal with these kinds of problems on other shows, especially not where it is the woman who is going to go risk her life everyday to save others.
In addition to Dawson and Shea some of the guest-starring female roles have also been superb. Mena Suvari plays a ballsy publicist who basically helped Firehouse 51 not shut down and this season we met Severide's younger sister. She is an aspiring chef who is not just there to be a love interest for one of Severide's fellow firefighters.
What is interesting is Wolf was never known for his strong female characters. Law & Order, until the Mariska Hargitay years, was really about the men. Then he would cast some beautiful icy looking model as the Assistant DA who we really didn't hear from once she left the courtroom. But when he promoted Hargitay from sidekick to main character and hero, he got us looking at him differently.
The show returns from its short winter hiatus Tuesday and its spinoff show, Chicago P.D. premieres Wednesday night (we've been meeting characters from that show throughout the past two seasons on Chicago Fire.) And I think we can expect to see some more great strong female characters even though the majority of the cast is male. Sophia Bush, who plays Detective Erin Lindsay, is already a hit with critics.
Alessandra Stanley wrote about Chicago PD and Killer Women, another new show featuring women in crime premiering this week in The New York Times today. "Chicago P.D is, in many ways, a throwback to an earlier, male-dominated era of crime shows, yet it carves out room for strong female characters who are good at their jobs and taken seriously by their colleagues — and the writers. “Killer Women” is a much more stylish, contemporary series that showcases one of the first women to become a Texas Ranger, yet it dummies the heroine down by dolling her up Aaron Spelling-style," she wrote.
The winter premiere of Chicago Fire airs Tuesday at 10/9c on NBC and Chicago P.D. airs Wednesday at 10/9c on NBC.