Logline: Real-time “extreme event” medical series follows the nurses and doctors of an understaffed Brooklyn hospital that becomes the borough’s last viable trauma center after a catastrophic hurricane wreaks havoc on the city. On a holiday weekend with few doctors on call, the medical staff will be pushed to make the most difficult life-and-death choices as they work to save their patients and themselves.
Cast: Rachel Griffiths, Paola Lazaro, Matthew James Thomas, Nikki M. James, JJ Feild, Latarsha Rose, Jamie McShane
Creators: Warren Leight (W / EP), Paul Haggis (EP), Charles McDougall (D / EP)
Studios: Sony TV
Rise set the bar quite high. With Warren Leight (Law & Order: SVU) and Paul Haggis (Crash) weighing in creatively, I’m not surprised that Shelter doesn’t fall too far behind.
After a slightly rocky start with far too many named characters, I was completely won over by the writing on this one. With laser focus, the pilot follows head nurse Kim as she coordinates an orchestra of doctors, nurses, and interns struggling to cope with a sudden influx of trauma patients in the face of an approaching hurricane.
This pilot is rock solid. The stakes are high. The leads are sympathetic, fleshed-out, and well-differentiated. A strong real-time urgency underscores the structure, exacerbated by the approaching hurricane. Kim is in control at all times, recalling Bailey (Chandra Wilson) from Grey’s Anatomy and — this is going to sound weird — Sarah (Mireille Enos) from The Killing. It’s a solid starring role.
That said, I’m a bit concerned about pacing. The moment Kim’s son Jake is introduced heading out to surf (smart kid), we know he’s going to land up on a gurney sooner or later. But did I expect this to occur halfway through the pilot? Nope. In addition, while I can certainly see the appeal of the “real-time extreme event,” its selling point has the potential to be its bane as well. The problem with a real-time event series of this sort is that the hurricane has to end at some point. What then? While this could be the limits of my own imagination speaking, I struggle to visualize this as anything other than a limited series. At any rate, I was at the edge of my seat throughout. The final scene is a real nailbiter, and I was genuinely disappointed I’d have to wait a long, long time to find out what happens next.
With strong characters and relationships, and pervading atmosphere of urgency, Shelter blends medical procedural and disaster film elements into a potent series foundation. I was consistently reminded of the excellent two-part Season 5 premiere of Grey’s Anatomy (remember the one with Bernadette Peters and Kathy Baker?).
I can’t help but think FX’s forthcoming Katrina: American Crime Story has weighed in on this conversation. Is NBC trying to beat FX to the punch?