It’s always dicey to make an assessment of a new show based on purely the pilot, but in the case of “Station 19,” there are a few nice caveats. One, the firefighter procedural is a spinoff of Shonda Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy,” the jewel in the crown of her Shondaland TV empire. Two, the pilot is really good — a refreshingly gimmick-free character drama about the heightened atmosphere of a fire station, centered on the tough woman at its center. Given the limited window TV pilots have to grab the audience’s attention, this is no small feat. But more importantly, “Station 19” addresses some of the overwrought foibles of Shondaland shows by retreating into subtler territory. Arguably, “Station 19” is the outfit’s best pilot since the excellent debut episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” — one that winningly emphasizes character over flourish.
The central character is Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz), an athletic second-generation firefighter who seems to have a wisecrack and a smile for everyone she knows. In a Shakespearean twist in the premiere, her father — the chief — is unexpectedly forced to name a successor. Andy’s the natural leader, but she’s outranked by her boyfriend, Jack (Grey Damon). Encouraged by her ex, Ryan (Alberto Frezza), Andy asks her father to consider her for captain. The conclusion of Andy’s arc is relatively straightforward, at least in this episode. But the process — which has Andy recalibrating her relationships with three different men in her life as she sorts through her feelings of ambition and inadequacy — is deceptively complex. Andy is asking the men in her life if they can see her as a daughter, a romantic partner, or a peer, if she becomes everyone’s boss. Ideally, their answer would be that it doesn’t matter. But in a way that opens up avenues for exploration, Andy’s desire to be a contender causes some discomfort. “Station 19” is setting itself up to be a manual for asking for more, by recognizing that asking is just the beginning of the journey.
Showrunner and creator Stacy McKee had an unenviable task in trying to formulate a fire department procedural that could both inhabit the same universe as “Grey’s Anatomy” without overtly replicating NBC’s successful “Chicago Fire.” “Station 19” offers a distinctly Shondaland twist on the fire station drama, without resorting to the gimmicks of “Scandal,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” or the latest attempt “For the People.” The new drama dials down the heightened emotions and quicksilver banter that are hallmarks of the Rhimes brand for a sturdier, subtler story. Because this is a Shondaland show, the back half of the pilot does feature an attractive couple getting naked with each other. But at least “Station 19” feels more like a show about characters than a sizzle reel designed to evoke a mood, which places it a cut above the competition.