“Fire Country,” which premieres Friday on CBS, is a pyrotechnics soap opera set amidst firefighters in a fictional Northern California hamlet that initially has more trees than people. As the state faces a fourth year of drought, the fires burn hotter and faster with accelerating climate change, and not for the first time, questions are being raised about whether people should have been rebuilding burned cities or should have been living in first, it’s an odd thing to watch. Of course, in the end the firefighters always win – or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the fires always lose – but the end is sometimes a long time coming, as acres, buildings and even lives are lost.
There are other firefighting shows on the air now — “Chicago Fire,” “Station 19” — and, like “Fire Country,” they’re essentially ensemble relationship dramas set in a fiery setting. The twist here is the rural setting and the introduction of Cal Fire’s inmate firefighter program, which has been around since World War II, where eligible convicts live in “fire camps” for a small salary and time off from their sentence, complementing the professionals, to prevent forest fires from advancing by clearing brushes.
More specifically, “Fire Country” tells the ancient tale of a returning lost man. Here it’s Bode Donovan (Max Thieriot), a name AI couldn’t have created better, who once held someone at gunpoint but is clearly a good guy now. (All the convicts appear to be well-behaved, but aside from Bode’s comical new friend Freddy, played by W. Tré Davis, none have a name or personality, or more than a line or two of dialogue.) Bode is also a bit of an artist, who might become relevant later but heralds a sensitive nature at the moment. Unfortunately for him, he is sent to a “camp of fire” in his old hometown, where there are people he wants to avoid and history he wants to bury.
Often one feels the need to watch multiple episodes of a show in order to write about it, but sometimes the purpose is so clear, the brief so obviously executed as intended, that one feels confident imagining an entire season in a single hour. This is a small-town, meat-and-potato drama fueled by a large cast of handsome people with strong feelings and the occasional conflagration. (As occasionally only additional episodes will reveal.)
Alongside Bode, the main characters, who will be linked in sometimes “surprising” ways – revelations are scattered across the hard-working pilot – include department head Sharon (Diane Farr), who is married to fire chief Vince (Billy Burke), in whose station we find best friends Eve (Jules Latimer) and Jake (Jordan Calloway) dating Gabriela (Stephanie Arcila), a 14th-place Olympic jumper who is deciding whether to stay in town or go after Florida returns Zug, who also happens to be the daughter of Manny (Kevin Alejandro), who runs the convict fire camp. There is also a dead person named Riley who is important to some of them.
A sprinkling of technical references — “Caterpillar D6N,” “10s and 18s” — stands out as research rather than creating a lived world, but that counts for no more here than anecdotal facts about the oil business or cattle ranching “Dallas.” That Milieu offers opportunities for heroic deeds—Bode, described in press materials as “seeking redemption,” is the most immediately heroic—but it’s more of a setting than a theme.
Fire Country fits in too well with other shows of its kind to feel new and exciting, but this strain — the prime-time location-based action soap — has stood the test of time for decades. Shows like this don’t have to be brilliant, as long as they’re fun, with a minimum of attractive characters, and enough unanswered questions to keep people coming back. (In any case, I’m not going to warn you on the basis of a single pretty good episode.) And some of the fire scenes are exciting, although in this (literal) climate it’s weird to watch things burn for the sake of a TV show, even if you acknowledges that special effects are a big part of what we see, and some professionally controlled burns make up the rest. I mean, I’d be surprised to learn that the production team, willy-nilly, set things on fire – this isn’t a series I’ve ever seen could support.
When: Friday, 9 p.m
Valuation: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under 14 years old)
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-07/fire-country-cbs-max-thieriot-review ‘Fire Country’ on CBS review: A soap opera with pyrotechnics