“This is 3 Rock Con Camp. We fight fires all over the state of California. As you can see, there are no fences. You want to run, I can’t stop you. But I need you to know this. You won’t get far. And when we catch you, not if, when, you go back to that concrete jungle, and time will be added to your sentence. Ready to check out your new home?”
For Max Thieriot, it’s quite a new home. For over six years he was a Navy Seal on the David Boreanaz series SEAL Team. He was pretty much the eyes and ears of the audience, as he was the new guy on the team when the show started. The character certainly evolved, and before long he was one of the more solid members of the team. His character’s name was Clay, and in the sixth season he ended up suffering some devastating injuries. It looked touch-and-go for the character, and indeed it was. But it wasn’t the fictional doctors on the show that would determine Clay’s fate. It was the powers that be over at CBS. You see, Max had a dream, and that dream was Fire Country. He co-created the series and was number one on the call sheet. It was just a question of whether the show would get picked up. If it did not, then Clay would recover from his injuries and carry on with his brothers on SEAL Team. If the show did get picked up, it meant bad news for Clay, and he would be killed on the show. If you’re reading this, you know which way it ended up going. That meant a funeral on one show and a newborn series for another. It’s the television circle of life, and you won’t need Elton John to explain it to you. And now the first season of Fire Country is in the can and released on DVD from CBS Home Entertainment.
Bode Donovan (Thieriot) is incarcerated at a California prison for armed robbery. He has just been denied at a parole hearing and has a lot of time left on his sentence to serve. His lawyer offers him an opportunity to both get out of his cell and earn time off his sentence. California has a program that allows convicts to serve on forest fire crews to serve out their time in something called a fire camp. Bode signs up, but quickly discovers he’s not going to the camp he signed up for. Instead he’s headed to Edgewater and 3 Rock Con Camp. He’s not too happy. Edgewater is his home town where he left a ton of baggage before he was sent to prison.
That baggage quickly comes to the surface when his request for a transfer is denied. You see, Bode’s real last name is Leone, and that family is firefighting royalty in Edgewater. His father Vince Leone, played by Billy Burke, is the Chief of Firehouse 41. His mother, Sharon Leone, played by Diane Farr, is the Chief of the entire department. He was pretty much run out of town by his father after his sister was killed in a horrible car crash while he was driving. Bode carries a great deal of guilt, and it has caused tension with his father now that he’s back and they are working together.
While Bode was gone, his father took another young kid under his wing. Jake Crawford is played by Jordan Callaway. More baggage. What his father doesn’t know is that Jake was dating the deceased daughter (while she was alive, of course), and it was his breakup that drove her to try to get out of the car while Bode was driving, thus causing the accident that everyone blames on Bode. Jake along with firefighter Eve Edwards, played by Jules Latimer, were great childhood and teen friends until that tragic night. Eve is happy to see Bode again, but Jake isn’t, and he has a new reason. His new girlfriend is Gabriela Perez, played by Stephanie Arcila. She’s starting to fall in love with Bode. It’s a messy triangle, until it isn’t. Jake isn’t Bode’s only problem when it comes to Gabriela. Her father is Manny Perez (Alejandro), who also happens to be the captain of 3 Rock Con Camp.
Thieriot took memories from a camp that was located near where he grew up and had long attempted to sell the idea for a series. He’s gotten it done, and I have to admit that the show is both compelling and full of tight scripts and wonderful visuals along with almost as much action as the actor saw on SEAL Team. The crew basically put out forest fires. That means digging trenches and clearing brush. They don’t get to ride the big rigs and use all of that equipment. The job for them is mostly sweat and hand tools. In the camp Bode finds a bit of a family atmosphere, and his character grows a ton in this first year. It leads to a reconciliation with his father, of sorts, and an element of trust and admiration to those around him. He learns leadership skills and becomes a good leader among the cons with whom he learns to feel deeply close and protective. That applies particularly to Freddy Mills, played by W. Tre Davis. The two become close, and it’s a closeness that by the end of the season will see Bode take a fall for something he didn’t do in order to protect Freddy and his new family. The two have incredible chemistry, and it’s some of the best stuff on the series.
At the heart of the show, you’ll find fires. These aren’t the kind of fires you see on Chicago Fire. These are burning acres of forest, and it’s dangerous work, and it will take some folks along the way. I give a lot of credit to the showrunners, which include Thieriot, for doing as much as they can practically. Fire never really looks quite right in CG, and there are certainly moments of that in this season, but I’m impressed with how much is real, and yes, you absolutely can tell the difference. They do a lot with that limited television budget. You’ll love how big it all looks.
The cast is all excellent down to the last player. There just aren’t any weak links in this chain. You get a ton of emotion to go with all of the big action, and the stories capture a ton of drama a nuance throughout the year. This is a strong series in every aspect from writing to cast to production design. It’s clever, and it’s compelling. As much as I love SEAL Team and was genuinely sad to see Clay go, it was worth the loss. There’s good stuff here that I hope goes on for several years. They wrote themselves into a tight spot for the season finale, so I can’t wait to see how they get out of it without making some dramatic changes to the show’s structure, and I really hope they don’t do that.
You get all 22 episodes on six discs with a few extras. There is the usual half-hour season wrap-up that comes with most CBS releases. This one spends most of the time introducing you to the characters and the actors who play them. There’s a short feature on the f/x and a gag reel. CBS has been pretty good at giving shows a chance, so I think it’s worth getting invested in these characters and their stories. “They’re looking for volunteers.”