FOX’s ‘9–1–1’ is a thrillingly camp pleasant surprise

I am shaken right now. Shaken by the first episode of 9–1–1, the most exciting hour of network TV since the pilot of Designated Survivor. I had no idea what to expect from this show, exec-produced by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk — the Glee/Scream Queens duo you wouldn’t associate with an action-packed project like this — and starring one of my favourite faces of the small screen, the eternally-employed Peter Krause.

I’ve watched Krause play an ambitious sportscaster for Aaron Sorkin, a horny undertaker for Alan Ball, the world’s greatest dad for Jason Katims and a brilliant conman for Shonda Rhymes. So it’s about time he played a sexy fireman for Ryan Murphy. And he’s really good! His character (I can’t pretend I remember his name) is given some time to grow, visiting a priest for confession to talk about his former alcohol and drug problems, and acting as a literal angel when he tries to talk a woman down from suicide. Peter Krause has always been an angel.

Yes, on one level 9–1–1 can be enjoyed as the TV version of an LAFD calendar; Krause’s biceps are a strong selling point and this episode features an entire storyline about a younger colleague using his role to attract women. But it’s too camp to be chauvinistic, and has surprisingly good female characters in Angela Bassett’s cop and Connie Britton’s 9–1–1 operator. I find more focused shows like Chicago Fire/Chicago P.D. and their counterparts a little slow, but 9–1–1 is aimed at people with really short attention spans, and it packs a bunch of weird, very different emergencies into its 44 minutes. Our team of responders must rescue a premature baby from a pipe, a small girl from some burglars and a choking woman from the snake wrapped around her neck. And they crack jokes whilst they’re doing it, even when the emergency seems really dark.

This is where Murphy’s influence is most strongly felt, obviously. Between Britton’s snatches of ponderous voiceover about how important 9–1–1 operators are to American civility, there’s a cynicism and a lust for thrills that keeps the energy at a startling peak. I think I was tapping my leg with stress the entire length of the episode, I’m not sure I could take this more than once a week.