Review – NBC’s Trauma: Come for the Big Bang, Stay for the SF Skyline and the Potential

No spoilers.

After two episodes of NBC’s new medical drama Trauma it appears its strength isn’t its excellent dialogue nor its exceptional acting, but the explosions, fast ambulances, car crashes and the scenic wide shots of San Francisco, where the series is filmed.

Indeed, NBC heavily promoted the premiere episode’s big fireballs which did look very impressive, some calling them worthy of a Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster.

But the fickle television audience is looking for more than just beautiful people and shock and awe special effects. Maybe throw in the awesome San Francisco skyline and geography?

This week’s episode left San Francisco city limits to pick up a victim in Marin County. It will be interesting to see where else in the Bay Area they go.

That is one of the reasons I’ve been interested in Trauma since the series was first announced last Spring by NBC. Finally a series filmed entirely in San Francisco (though the City almost let that valuable business slip away… that’s a whole other blog post). Trauma would be the first primetime network series set in and completely filmed in the San Francisco Bay Area since CBS’ Nash Bridges, last aired in 2001. Other broadcast series have been set in the City (NBC’s Journeyman and ABC’s Women’s Murder Club both in 2007), but none filmed here except for the occasional exterior shots of the City. USA’s Monk is probably the longest running San Francisco-set series in recent memory, but they too film elsewhere with only establishing shots.

So having a series not only set in, but filmed completely in San Francisco was very exciting for me. Getting to see the city I grew up in dramatized on television is definitely a fun experience.

But what else does the series have to back that beautiful scenery up? The pilot episode relied too heavily on the big stunts and not enough on the characters, the paramedics we were going to be with every week (if we stick with the show). Instead of fleshing out the characters, we got a cookie cutter, on the surface look at them. Stereotypical characters, half of them bordering on annoying and unlikeable. No end of episode twist could fix the lack of character development (or introduction).

This week’s episode moved in the right direction, though slowly. I only hope Trauma doesn’t develop as slowly as Journeyman did. Midway through the 13 episode run, Journeyman went on a roll and by the end had developed an intriguing mythology and emotional connection that was two months too late for the show to survive. The case of the mother and son in the 2nd half of today’s episode is the kind of emotional story they’ve got to pull out every other episode. It’ll come down to the cases and calls they get each week. If not our heroes and anti-heroes themselves, then the cases.

Trauma, already off to a rough start in the ratings, needs to step it up, though NBC’s level of tolerance may be a little higher considering their line-up these days.

With the series having the Peter Berg pedigree, it falls even shorter. He worked his magic on Friday Night Lights, couldn’t some of that magic rub off on Trauma?

The series itself has plenty of potential. Unlike NBC’s other medical drama Mercy, Trauma is further away from being a subpar cousin to ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice combo. Few soapy elements, interesting seeds of potential for character development, throw in the special effects and depending on the medical emergencies for the week, Trauma could be a nice series to have each week.

Though Trauma isn’t the best option on Mondays and while it’s got a lot it needs to work out, you can definitely do far worse on the night and the week. Worthy of the DVR or Hulu, in the hopes Trauma becomes an experience far from traumatic. (Har har)

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