No Heroes as NBC's 'Trauma' Fails to Deliver - a JEMS Review

No Heroes as NBC's 'Trauma' Fails to Deliver - a JEMS Review

A.J. Heightman
Editor-in-Chief, JEMS

The new series Trauma premiering Monday night is being billed by NBC as "the first high-octane medical drama series to live exclusively in the field." The show's Website says it's "like an adrenaline shot to the heart, an intense, action-packed look at one of the most dangerous medical professions in the world: first responder paramedics." Unfortunately having had the opportunity to view the pilot in advance of its September 28 premiere, I think the series is ripe for "Do Not Resuscitate Orders".

When It's On: The series premiere of 'Trauma' is Monday, September 28th a 9p (8 Central). In the pilot, San Francisco's team of first responders deal with a tragedy involving their own.

CONNECT: During and after the show's premiere Monday night, login to this post on JEMS Connect and add your comments, thoughts and own review of 'Trauma'


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I realize that, having been raised watching the epic Emergency! TV series, I have a bias for shows that portray emergency personnel as professional in appearance and attitude, disciplined and ethical and compassionate to their patients.

I also realize that it's 2009 and writers and producers like to inject sex into every episode, and have characters with cocky, rebellious 90210ish cast members who bring a host of personal problems to work, but this series bubbles over with a cast that should be stationed on Wisteria Lane, not the streets of San Francisco.

The premiere of Trauma doesn't begin with a well-dressed crew checking their drugs and equipment before their first run. It starts with the sights and sounds of the boyfriend/girlfriend crew having sex in the patient compartment of their rig.

Then, before you can get the words "I can't believe it" out of your lips, you hear the dispatcher (who obviously knows the way the crew starts their shift), tell "Naughty Nancy" Carnahan to button her blouse and respond to an emergency call.

You're next brought to the rooftop resuscitation of an electrocuted patient who gets a helicopter response in the middle of the city. It's here you're introduced to the wacko of the show, helicopter paramedic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuk, a raucous dude with an attitude as big as his helicopter. The show's promotional hype says Reuben "oozes bravado to match his talent, but there's a hint of vulnerability in there too... which charms the panties off all the girls. They don't call him "Rabbit" for nothing."

Hold on, it gets worse.

Turns out, "Rabbit" is also a sexist who personally selects the male member of the sex crew to accompany the patient because he doesn't want a female medic in "his" helicopter.

Don't be mad, be sad, because, when the chopper lifts off the roof, instead of departing and gaining altitude like every well-trained aeromedical pilot in the nation does, the pilot of "Angel Rescue 2" swoops down between the skyscrapers and collides with a sightseeing helicopter that's also flying between the buildings. Everybody on board the choppers dies except for (you guessed it) "Rabbit".

Reuben the rebel lives to fly another day.

The show flashes forward a year and "Rabbit" returns to work cockier than ever and equipped with a new, post-traumatic "I can't die" attitude. He takes his new, young, petite, ex-Iraq war chopper pilot on a high-speed, reckless ride down the hills of San Francisco, telling her it's like the scene in Steve McQueen's movie "Bullitt".

"Bullitt"? "Bullitt" was released 1968, 41 years ago. Even I don't remember Bullitt!

If Rabbit's law-breaking ride doesn't ruin our image enough, he proceeds to rip the door off a drunk's car as the man attempts to get in his parked car. Then he cons the inebriant into believing the incident was his fault. Don't fret though, because Reuben, ever the gentleman, strolls into the nearby bar to retrieve a pitcher full of ice for the man to put his amputated fingers in.

Just when you think this show can't get any worse, you're taken to a corny multi-vehicle car-versus-gasoline truck MCI (caused by a text-messaging jerk), and forced to watch some of the most unethical EMS behavior you'll ever see.

First, "Rabbit" lands in his chopper and waltzes up the highway and hears the text-messaging patient whining that "he wants to go in the helicopter". Without skipping a beat, Reuben injects him with Versed and walks away.

Then, stoic Cameron Boone, a black paramedic who carries emotional baggage (and a strained marriage) after witnessing his friends die in the aeromedical crash, encounters a pretty blonde patient with a minor arm injury and "re-triages" her so she can get a ride in the helicopter with him.

While "Rabbit" gets set to ride shotgun and leave Cameron alone in the back of the chopper with the target of his affection, his rookie helicopter pilot, Marisa Benez, welcomes him to "Booty Airlines".

There is a happy ending to this magical series premier though. Despite detesting "Rabbit" for his bad attitude and for surviving the crash that killed her boyfriend, she closes out the show by hopping in bed with him.

Johnny and Roy, please don't watch this show. Stop by my house and we'll do shots of Ipecac instead.

A.J. Heightman is Editor-in-Chief of JEMS

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Comment by Setla Film Productions on December 23, 2009 at 1:10pm
While it is important to notice just how ludicrous this show is as far as how our industry actually operates, it does bring attention to EMS and now I feel the time is ripe to start with a show that is REAL and shows what our profession is really about... As an Original Reality Series "Chronicles of EMS" is our chance as industry professionals to bring high level production to our industry without the need to sell sex, drugs or non-stop action. Our goal for the series is simple. Travel the world and explore other EMS systems and learn how they work. Of course there is humor and serious moments throughout, but as a whole we are creating an entertaining and educational web series geared for the EMS Professional. Take a look at
Comment by Andrew Niemann on September 29, 2009 at 7:31pm
Wow. What an incredible show! Reminds me of Rescue 77 without the funny parts (remember the medic doing a handstand on the defib paddles?). This show has such an excellent premise; now if they could work on the storyline, the direction, the scenarios, and the characters - I will not criticize the acting because I have no idea what material the actors have to work with....ooh, ooh, I know what was missing....remember that scene in the movie Cocktail when the bartenders are tossing the bottles back and forth? The medics could do that with Syringes!
Perhaps this show could be saved if they did go to the producers of Third Watch. Perhaps, they would be able to make an MCI response look maybe a teensy bit realistic.
Comment by Sebastian Wong on September 28, 2009 at 10:51am
Fran, there is a possibility that a show like this could succeed. I think that A.J. got an early cut of the Pilot to review but think about what the masses want in the TV that they watch. On a different tangent for discussion that this show might bring about, how many of us have worked with a pompous, male chauvinistic, "Para-God" and dreaded the shift? What did we do to try and change that? Or have any of those arrogant and misogynistic, "Para-Gods" ever matured, grew up, and saw the error of their ways?(no, they usually flamed out and did other things.) As for the unethical behavior that we see on the show, do elements exist in our profession? A friend of mine from another part of the country laughed that "where they worked, there were a lot of children conceived in an ambulance or the station." We are struggling so hard to gain acceptance and respectability for our profession but how do we do it? We write articles and lament the bad cases when they bubble up to the surface; harrumph and denounce them. There is so much more that we can do but I will talk about that at a later time as to not veer off topic.
Comment by Shawn on September 28, 2009 at 9:11am
I think I'll watch out of sheer morbid curiosity. It's too bad that there aren't any more realistic Fire/EMS dramas. I agree, I thought Third Watch was better than a lot of the more recent offerings. If it isn't pumped full of sex and sensationalism, the tv execs don't want it.
Comment by Fran Hildwine on September 28, 2009 at 5:38am
WHY can't television executives GET IT? When shows like this come out they never succeed. The viewing public understands that everyone brings baggage to work, but professionals put it aside and get the job done. The last decent, professional paramedic character on TV was the husband on Ghost Whisperer.
Comment by Jands graham on September 28, 2009 at 12:22am
OMG...nothing..nothing CAN replace Third Watch this show comes off as a high speed but low drag, for people who lack prehospital knowledge.
Comment by Sebastian Wong on September 27, 2009 at 10:55pm
A.J., this pilot is unfortunately not representative of our profession. The issue rings much closer to home as the San Francisco Fire Department is the fictional setting for "Rabbit" et al. When the producers first met with members of our staff, the Chief was extremely displeased with the storyline and script. Feedback was provided to the creative production staff and the technical adviser that was hired by the production company. I remember being told by the production group that the purpose of a pilot was to 'sell' the series to television executives. The sad commentary of our society is that extreme and limit pushing stunts garner the attention of the public and the tabloid fodder format attracts and captures their interest. In an upcoming episode of TRAUMA, they film in the San Francisco community where I grew up, Chinatown. Imagine my disappointment that my community was showcased with a fire in a brothel, with legions of scantily clad Asian women running out of the building versus the myriad other positives in Chinatown that could be highlighted. I hope that the EMS community takes this opportunity to use this show as a platform to open up a dialogue over the issues that plague our profession. As a profession, we always react to a problem. We need to become more strategic and proactive. Take the opportunity to shape the dialogue for the betterment of our EMT's and Paramedics.
Comment by Arthur Hsieh on September 27, 2009 at 9:57pm
Yet another show to glorify what isn't right and miss the stories that would make good copy - the mini-documentary "Hopkins" comes to mind. Sounds like it's time to sharpen pencils (and fire up keyboards) for a little letter writing campaign.
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