'9-1-1' is a star-studded emergency mess

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment

One of the first things you hear in 9-1-1 is the soothing voice of Connie Britton, speaking in low, measured tones. It’s the voice we know and found such comfort in when she starred in Friday Night Lights and Nashville. But now, instead of talking warmly about marriage, football, or country music, her new tagline is this: “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” Sitting in what looks like an exceptionally roomy, quiet, and exclusive emergency-call center in Los Angeles, Britton plays Abby Clark, who also does a lot of voice-over narration about her troubled personal life (mom with Alzheimer’s; recent boyfriend-breakup).

The phone calls Abby receives are channeled to either a firehouse — where Peter Krause (as fire Capt. Bobby Nash) sits around looking very dissatisfied with his new crewcut — or a police station, which houses cop Sgt. Athena Grant, played by Angela Bassett with the weary look of an Oscar nominee who cannot believe she’s got to haul this unflattering gun belt around town on her achin’ hips. Like Britton’s Abby, Krause’s Bobby has a troubled backstory (recovering alcoholic), while Bassett’s Athena has a troubled present-story (since it’s a semi-spoiler, I’ll say only that her marital conflict would have made an enlightening network TV movie-of-the-week in 1974). Indeed, 9-1-1 — co-created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk —  is a very ’70s project, less a throwback than an accidental homage to Emergency!, the 1972-79 show that turned Randolph Mantooth into a household name, briefly. The reason 9-1-1 seems even worse than it is, though, is that it has such good actors performing such awful material. How awful? Somebody flushes a baby down a toilet!

Here’s the only way I can imagine 9-1-1 got made: Ryan Murphy called up Britton, Bassett, and Krause and said the same thing to each one: “Hey, I’ve written a big, juicy part for you in an upcoming project. But first, you gotta do this other thing I’ve got…” And, so eager were these actors to bite into a role in a future season of a Murphy series like American Crime Story or American Horror Story, they all gritted their teeth and succumbed to uniform fittings for this Fox procedural. This is the only way I can think of to explain how actors of this caliber ended up in this cornball mess.

9-1-1 airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox.