Law & Order & Fire & EMT


Some time ago here I wrote a column about how I am an “Law & Order Leftist.” As I write this the law and order notion has been taken up in its Nixonian sense by the unctuous Donald Trump, so some explanation is in – pun not intended – order.

I was referring of course to the long-running Law & Order TV franchise. I’m a fan of its original series, as well as its spinoffs, all the way across the pond to its English version, Law & Order UK. Ensemble TV drama has rarely if ever been done better – the original Law & Order ties with Gunsmoke as the longest running series – and the formula’s enduring power continues to prove itself.

So it’s no surprise that I’ve been taken with Wolf’s newest franchise: Chicago Fire, Chicago PD and Chicago Med. Just as New York City has been a central character in Wolf’s main Law & Order shows, The Windy City stars in these three series. It provides a potent milieu for the stories the shows tell to unfold within. Wolf’s creations come in a close second to the shows associated with TV’s master urban storyteller, The Wire co-creator David Simon.

I visited Chicago rather frequently in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, back when I lived in New York City. My take on the city was that it was a more-manageable New York, albeit with a strong midwestern flavor. In a way, it’s likely the most American city. Sadly, it suffers from a plague of violence. And its winters are brutal (I keep quipping of late that if global warning continues, I’d consider moving there.) But one of the many merits of these Chicago-based shows is how they capture the ambience, spirit and, sadly, tragedies to be found there.

I came into the three series by way of Chicago PD, the second of the shows to be launched, as Fire came first. One might wonder how a progressive can so enjoy a cop show. But all great storytelling tells moral tales. And police procedurals are at the leading edge of moral drama.

It also allows me to have a somewhat idealized view of police at a time when police violence against African Americans has reached a crisis level. My feelings on the men and women in blue are not dissimilar to those eloquently expressed by President Obama in his speech in the wake of the Dallas police shootings. (Can we just abandon the current presidential race and just get four more years of a chief executive who, in his final days in office, is showing himself to be a president that history will judge well ... if we all live long enough to have further history). They do a tough and challenging job. Most of then I’d still like to believe are good people trying to do good work, even if the bad apples are too often as rotten as people can get.

The one of these shows that most exemplifies what they are all about is Chicago Fire, which so won me over with free episodes from its fourth season (on Hulu) that I actually paid (on Amazon) to watch the entire show from the beginning. Then I moved on watch the first season of Chicago Med.

The underlying theme to them all is the notion of family – mostly in the sense of the families we form in life outside of our actual families. The firehouse, where fireman and EMS workers live, eat and sleep together on shifts, is naturally a place where such bonds and group esprit are formed. This is best exemplified by the love between womanizing bachelor fireman Kelly Severide and lesbian EMS paramedic Leslie Shay. All three shows are set in milieus at the cutting edge of drama. And as the best dramatic TV shows do, as I have said a number of times before, portray reality better than “reality TV.” At a time when a reality TV star is running for president, these series may be just the escape you need.


Documentary Film: The Winding Stream – This excellent film about the first and founding family of American country music, the Carters – starting with A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter from the hills of Southwestern Virginia, who recorded the first commercial country music sides in 1927 – vividly traces the story of both a singing group and a family whose impact on our popular culture has been huge and lasting. With first-person accounts from three generations of Carters – including in-law Johnny Cash – and glorious and very human music, it’s an illuminating, heartwarming and rewarding experience.

CD: EARTH by Neil Young – I have spent much time in recent years decrying the dearth of political music by mass audience artists. But Neil Young puts his money where his mouth is on this two disc live album that gathers together his environmental songs from 1970’s After the Gold Rush up through his most recent studio album, The Monsanto Years. The numbers from that release find rich fruition here and older material blossoms, thanks to the vibrant union between Young and the youthful band Promise of the Real.

Book: Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles by Geoff Emerick – The rather short career of the greatest pop music group ever continues to provide a wealth of great reading alongside the enduring pleases of their music. Emerick started his career as a studio engineer (and later producer) working with The Beatles on their Revolver album. His memoirs are an engaging and insightful tome which with appeal that ranges beyond Beatles fanatics and recording studio geeks (both of which I am).

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. He edits Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2016

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