Television: Windy City of Chicago gets its close-up
Chicago, increasingly television’s kind of town, adds another series to its roster of locally filmed shows tonight with the premiere of USA’s "Sirens," a wacky Denis Leary-produced comedy about EMTs.
But the Windy City’s true close-up will occur on CNN, with the launch of "Chicagoland," a documentary series from the Peabody Award-winning team behind Sundance TV’s Newark, N.J.-focused "Brick City."
That one’s not so wacky, despite the made-for-TV presence of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who only this week was taking the Lake Michigan polar plunge with "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon. His controversial plan to close dozens of the city’s schools draws plenty of fire in the show’s first episode, which also looks at police response to Chicago’s murder rate.
The two issues are not unrelated -- sending children to schools outside their immediate neighborhoods requires them to cross the kind of lines that could turn them into casualties of gang violence.
Spring seems like a distant promise right now, but in "Chicagoland," which was filmed last year, melting snow wasn’t good news to Fenger High School principal Elizabeth Dozier, who knew that warm weather and increased street violence go hand in hand. It was only a few years ago that a Fenger student was beaten to death on the way home from school, and Dozier’s made her students’ safety a priority.
There are few issues in "Chicagoland" that won’t seem drearily familiar to the residents of any large American city but the show, narrated by former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mark Konkol, is remarkably engaging. And the characters are memorable, from 9-year-old schools activist Asean Johnson to the mayor himself (who at one point is heard on the phone talking with someone whose name sounds like "Ari" and who may or may not be Emanuel’s Hollywood talent-agent brother).
"Sirens," which premieres tonight with two back-to-back episodes, stars Michael Mosley ("Pan Am"), Kevin Daniels ("Modern Family") and Kevin Bigley as emergency medical technicians in Chicago. It was adapted by Leary and Bob Fisher ("Wedding Crashers") from a British series, but based on three episodes I’ve seen (which don’t include the pilot), it feels a lot like Leary’s "Rescue Me" without all the alcoholism and ghosts and post-9/11 angst.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
Maybe a little edgier than USA’s usual fare "Sirens" has fun with the people working a tough job and benefits from guest shots by people like Jean Smart and Leary-show veteran Lenny Clarke.
The humor’s as broad as Lake Michigan, but when "Sirens" wades in a little deeper, as it occasionally does, it sometimes manages to be even funnier.
"George Lopez," the comedian’s family-centered ABC show, can still be found on Nick at Nite, but Lopez himself has moved on.
That’s all too clear in his new sitcom, "Saint George," which premieres tonight on FX as the lead-in to Charlie Sheen’s "Anger Management."
"Saint George" features Lopez as a newly divorced entrepreneur and teacher with an outspoken family (Olga Merediz, Danny Trejo, David Zayas) and a gorgeous younger ex (Jenn Lyon). He’s being pushed to re-enter the dating world, but, like many a sitcom male, he may have outsized expectations.
Based on the penis- and fat-joke-ridden pilot -- titled "Won’t Get Fooled Again" -- I’m keeping mine pretty low.
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