'9-1-1' Pilot Review: Ryan Murphy's New Fox Drama Makes A Case For The Procedural

In the era of Peak TV, the word "procedural" has become vulgar. It's been two full decades since The Sopranos elevated serialized storytelling on television to a whole new level, and the medium hasn't really looked back. Episodic television remains popular, but for the most part, the most talented of actors, writers and directors in television won't be seen anywhere near something procedural. And that's sort of a shame, because procedural television is an important part of television history, an inspiration for an entire generation of viewers and content creators, and a source for much better content than people are willing to give it credit for.

So it isn't really that procedural television isn't a viable form of entertainment on TV. It's more that good procedural television isn't really made anymore. For the most part, the format has been relegated to broad, lowest common denominator network fare. And with 9-1-1, it seems as if Ryan Murphy is on a crusade to change that. On the surface, 9-1-1 is a precedural of a different class. It's glossy with high production values, and it stars a handful of actors who you'd be more likely to see in a movie or, at the very least, some kind of Emmy fodder on a premium or streaming network. Dig a little deeper and you'll find the show to employ all the same storytelling tactics you might expect from this kind of show; it's just that it's better at putting it all together in a nice hour-long package.

The show follows a group of first responders. Connie Britton plays Abby, a 911 operator who is balancing her home life taking care of a mother with Alzheimer's. Angela Bassett is Athena, a firebrand police sergeant who has her own family drama, as her husband has recently come out of the closet. And leading the fire department is Captain Bobby Nash (Peter Krause), who has his fair share of demons as well. The pilot tries to focus some time on each of them (as well as a couple of other characters around them, mostly in the fire department), but it relies mostly on the acting ability of these three phenomenal actors to get the point across as it mostly focuses on the action, following each as they go about their day-to-day lives responding to emergencies and crime.

And since this is a Ryan Murphy show (along with his frequent contributor and co-creator Brad Falchuk), you should also expect a certain level of ridiculousness. Some of the emergencies the premiere covers (which Murphy insists are based on true stories) include a snake in the midst of choking a woman to death, a home invasion which ends in a robber being sprayed by a firehose, and most notably, a case of a flushed premature baby. There's probably one or two too many cases for a pilot that also requires a lot of setup and exposition, but they somehow find a way to make it work with its fast pace.

I want to say that the strength of the show is in its acting, Britton, Bassett and Krause are all phenomenal in their roles, but it almost feels out of place. Especially Bassett, who is way out of the league of this show to a noticeable degree. It's almost over-acting compared to the quieter performances of Krause and Britton, but I certainly wouldn't say it isn't a delight to have her on the show. The strength lies instead in the storytelling, which moves at breakneck speed and insists that you accept the ridiculous scenarios it presents you with. In other words, come for the Bassetts and the Brittons, stay for the flushed babies.

I like what I saw of 9-1-1 in the pilot. It's just over the top enough, well-acted enough, compelling enough to keep your attention and leave you wanting more. Now it's only a matter of seeing how long they can keep that up. The pilot for 9-1-1 gets 7.5 toilet babies out of 10.