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Review: NBC’s new ‘Chicago Med’ needs a shot of drama, stat

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Los Angeles Times Television Critic

Amid all the recent swooning over the experimental sauces and unique presentations of nouveau small-screen narrative, comfort-food TV, those crime and medical procedurals that have kept the business running through good times and bad, is often forgotten, left to soldier on with little fanfare.

So there is something oddly sentimental about the mere existence of NBC’s “Chicago Med,” which premieres Tuesday. The third portion in Dick Wolf’s latest franchise will act in tandem, and provide crossover potential, with “Chicago P.D.” and “Chicago Fire,” two solid shows that get little attention from social media, critics or the Television Academy.

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Viewers, however, like them well enough to keep the first two going, and Chicago likes them plenty; the city’s tax breaks are what lured Wolf west and out of his “Law & Order” comfort zone in the first place.

So it’s only fitting that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has made guest appearances on “P.D.” and “Fire,” offers essentially a ribbon-cutting ceremony for “Med.” Early scenes include a speech of appreciation for the titular hospital’s staff, which is, of course, about to be put to the test.

Even as the mayor speaks, an L train crashes; its occupants include, among many others, Chicago Med’s new trauma fellow, who enters shouting orders and riding a gurney.

Dr. Connor Rhodes (“Arrow’s” Colin Donnell) is the McDreamy of the piece. He may have a few secrets in his backstory, but he handles himself with brilliance and aplomb during his frenzied introduction to his new job. As do all of the doctors and nurses.

Senior resident Will Halstead (Nick Gehlfuss) may feel a bit threatened, but the lovely — and very pregnant — Dr. Natalie Manning (Torrey DeVitto) soon calms him down. She in turn is supported by nurse April Sexton (Yaya DaCosta), while the whole staff is overseen by serene and sensible Sharon Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkerson, “Law & Order’s” longest-running player) and Oliver Platt’s genial psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Charles.

Indeed, they are all so nice, so capable and so good-looking that it’s difficult to care what happens to any of them, which is not good news for a pilot. There are patients in peril, sure, but even they are almost universally nice and easy.

As with most hospital dramas, there are multiple story lines, here apparently designed to showcase the near-saintliness of the staff. Only one — in which the life of a brain-traumatized surrogate is in the hands of the would-be-parents — provides anything approaching tension.

To be fair, “Chicago Med” suffered some trauma itself — the premiere date was pushed up and a main cast member dropped out as did the original show runner (who was replaced by Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov). And for all its traditional trappings, the show is part of a larger experiment in crossover potential — Halstead has a brother on the police force and “Chicago Fire’s” David Eigenberg makes a brief appearance in “Med’s” pilot, etc.

Wolf made it clear early on that he was interested in celebrating local heroes, and there certainly has been an overemphasis on “broken” leads. But though it’s nice to see a hospital that is not run by drug addicts or operating way over its abilities, the staff at “Chicago Med” is maddeningly homogenous in its sincerity and ability.

A drama may not have to be dark to be good, but it does have to be, well, dramatic.

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‘Chicago Med’

Where: NBC

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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