Stay Tuned: 'Sirens' is an acquired taste
When I hear the word “sirens” I think about two things: Either wailing sounds coming from an emergency vehicle or magical sea creatures tempting men to crash into rocks. Denis Leary's new show on USA references the first definition. I might enjoy it more if it was the second. The series revisits themes found in Leary's previous show “Rescue Me,” where he played a firefighter. This time, he's executive producer rather than actor. The change in role doesn't mean too much. “Sirens” is Leary's point of view as a comic. If you’re a fan of his, you’ll be a fan of the show.
“Sirens” is a situation comedy about the misadventures of three Chicago EMT's. Johnny (Michael Mosley) is the leader of the crew. Hank (Kevin Daniels) is Johnny's best friend. Brian (Kevin Bigley) is the eager new recruit. Theresa (Jessica McNamee), a Chicago cop, is Johnny's ex-girlfriend. Johnny loves sports. Hank isn't afraid to say what's on his mind. Brian is impressionable and wants to please. Theresa and Johnny's relationship is stuck somewhere between friends and lovers, so they are honest with one another, most of the time. All these characteristics provide the framework for the show's humor. In the episodes I screened, Brian's enthusiasm for the job versus Johnny and Hank's jaded approach is intended as a funny set-up for “lessons.” In one episode, Brian learns the value of professional boundaries after he gets involved in a patient's personal life. In another, his integrity teaches Johnny and Hank to do the right thing.
The scripts do a good job of sticking to a theme, so episodes are compact and focused. The characters are not unlikable, but they're also not memorable. The humor is an acquired taste. Network executives would call the jokes “edgy,” which is just another way of saying “raunchy.” The first episode is about the potential dangers of not erasing your Internet search history, but it's basically one long riff on pornography. The second focuses on dealing with the past and has perhaps one too many jokes on the effect that women in yoga pants have on a guy's libido. The third is a lesson in karma when Johnny and Hank feel the consequences of a selfish choice. The goal is to make you stop and think every so often while you're laughing. It's a good plan, but other situation comedies do it better.
Interrupting humor with moments of drama in a situation comedy creates a specific tone. It lets the audience know that the characters' experiences may be absurd at times, but their lives are not one long punch line. In other words, the choice creates a certain believability. You relate to them while you're laughing at them. It's certainly a tone suitable to a show about the lives of first responders who, I imagine, probably use dark humor to help them get through a very stressful job. Leary is on to something with “Sirens,” but I'm not convinced he's succeeded.
“Sirens” is on Thursdays at 10 p.m. EDT on USA.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.