We all know the drill. Something bad happens? Call 9-1-1.
But then what? Who’s behind that voice that takes the frantic call? Who do they call next? And how do those first responders deal daily with a life-and-death job when they’re finally off the clock? American Crime Story’s Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk set out to explore the lifesaving entity we often take for granted in their new drama called, yes, 9-1-1.
9-1-1 reunites Murphy and Falchuk with their American Horror Story alumni Angela Bassett and Connie Britton, who play policewoman Athena Grant and call-center operator Abby Clark, respectively. Underground’s Aisha Hinds costars as Athena’s pal and confidante Henrietta “Hen” Wilson, the only female firefighter in her squad. And Peter Krause rounds out the core cast as Hen’s compassionate but driven boss Bobby Nash. The series expertly blends the drama — and sometimes humor — of the emergent situations and the gratification the job affords the first responder with the wreckage it can leave in their personal lives and perpetually tested souls.
“What you never think about is that they go right on to the next emergency,” says Bassett, who co-executive produces. “They don’t know ‘How does it end? What’s the outcome? What happened to that baby, that woman, that man — did they make it, did they not?’ … What’s interesting about our show is that we see that there are real and perceived emergencies in their lives — not just the hero and the person in distress. We’re all just trying to do the best that we can to get through the day.”
For Bassett’s Athena, that also means dealing with the upheaval her job has put on her faltering marriage and life at home with their two kids.
“Athena, she’s been married about 13, 14 years, her husband’s an architect, and she’s a cop — so, she’s the one that goes out every day, and, by the grace of God she comes home every evening,” Bassett explains. “You wonder what amount of stress that could put on a relationship. She’s a cop, so with those instincts, how could she not have some kind of awareness? But sometimes we push, we just ignore, we just tuck it away up on a shelf. In the opener, she and her husband have to deal with what their relationship has been and what it’s going to be, and how it’s going to transition. People evolve and change, and grow, so they’re growing apart. And they’re raising these young children, so it’s ‘How, what is this gonna look like now, and how are we gonna go through this tearing apart of this relationship, and why is it tearing apart? Is it just us growing, or is it outside forces, outside people?”
For Krause’s Nash, Bassett says, it’s the rescuer himself who may truly need rescuing.
“Whatever Athena or Hen are dealing with, at least they have each other to talk to, to share, to vent,” Bassett offers. “But Bobby, he really holds his secrets and his demons in, because it’s so dark and has been so devastating to his life. Someone very dear to him perished and he had a hand in it, unbeknownst to him, just by the choices that he made for his own life. So, the only light is the work that he does daily. Saving others. Reaching out. Putting his life on the line and coming to the rescue.”
And while the 9-1-1 previews might resemble the tried-and-true cop show formula, this is a Murphy/Falchuk show, and Bassett says there’s no mistaking that.
“It’s a mixture of taking some cues, some inspiration from real news headlines, but some that are obscure, along with just real emotional work from the characters, from the actors. It’s not just ‘by the book, just the facts, save the day,’” Bassett explains. “There’s drama, but [they] find the funny in it as well, find the odd, find the quirky quality. Stuff that just makes your mouth jaw drop. As I’m reading the script, I always just keep turning, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’ A real, audible gasp.”
9-1-1 series premiere, Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 9/8c on FOX