USA Network has dominated the cable ratings landscape over the past several years — recently finishing as the No. 1 cable network in total viewers for an eighth consecutive year. This was primarily accomplished through the strength of its very popular drama series, including White Collar, Covert Affairs, Suits and the recently ended Burn Notice. But USA Network’s new foray into half-hour, original scripted comedy series looks like it will continue to wow viewers. The first of USA’s comedy projects out of the block is Sirens, a hilarious new series created and executive-produced by Denis Leary and Bob Fisher.
Like Leary’s most recent series, Rescue Me, Sirens is set in a world of blue-collar emergency workers. Where the dramatic Rescue Me had some moments of dark humor, however, Sirens is a straight-out sitcom — though it doesn’t shy away from dark humor of its own, which is probably unavoidable, given its setup. It follows the lives of three Chicago EMTs, and several of the plotlines that we’ve seen are themed, in a way, around at least one of the patients the men encounter in their ambulance.
“I’ve noticed that, as well,” Michael Mosley, who stars as Johnny Farrell, told me recently, when I did a group interview with the cast. “I like the pattern. We’ve done 10 [episodes], and we’re still feeling out exactly what the show is, but … I like that there’s some kind of existential crisis or something where it all kind of effects us on a micro level.”
One of the crises initiated by an on-the-job encounter is when Johnny is asked by a dying man to rush home and erase the man’s Internet history before his wife can see it. That leads to questions of trust and wondering about each other’s own Internet histories between Johnny and police officer Theresa Kelly, played by Jessica McNamee. The relationship between Johnny and Theresa is complicated. At times she and Johnny appear to be a couple; other times she’s more “one of the boys” with the group of EMTs when not hanging around with her own group of women friends, and her sister. Johnny and Theresa’s relationship/friendship is so complicated, in fact, that Mosley and McNamee themselves puzzled over trying to figure out exactly what it is.
“We took a lot of the season discussing it, didn’t we?” McNamee laughingly asked Mosley during our interview.
“It’s like [Johnny] would do anything for her — except move in,” Mosley added. Johnny’s commitment issues appear to be keeping the two from being a full-on couple, yet they are not exactly exes, either.
“There’s an episode,” Kevin Daniels, who plays EMT Hank St. Clare, interjected, “where I think [Johnny] gives her a title, or tries to give her a title. Johnny says, ‘Yeah, then my … girlfriend? Ex-girlfriend?’”
Daniels’ Hank character appears to be a rock, of sorts, around which some of the craziness flies (Daniels told us Hank is “a voice of reason”). But that’s not to say that he’s immune to some of the hilarity that transpires, either.
“[Hank’s] like the sun,” said Mosley, “and we’re all just kind of orbiting around him, and then there’s a couple episodes where the sun goes haywire and just throws everything out of balance.”
Rounding out the main EMT characters is Kevin Bigley as Brian Czyk, an overly earnest, and sometimes naïve, new recruit. Bigley often ends up appearing as the “straight man” in many funny scenes (some of which are set up by Brian’s innocence with, or misunderstanding of, certain topics), though Bigley told us that, “everybody’s trying to crack each other up. There’s not a lot of ‘straight’ characters.”
For a while in his real life, Bigley lived and worked in Chicago, where Sirens is set and filmed. That made him a go-to guy for showing his cast mates the hot spots when not filming. During the course of our conversation about Chicago, the cast referenced the famed Second City, and the improv associated with that revered comedy institution. Given the fast-paced repartee going back-and-forth among the actors during our interview, it was no surprise when they pointed out how glad they are that working on Sirens sometimes allows them to exercise their own improv muscles.
“They’ve been letting us play around, within the lines,” Mosley said. “They’ll usually do three or four [takes] ‘according to Hoyle,’ and then they’ll let us screw around on the last two.”
Getting to the original lines, though, requires some unique stories, some of which are inspired by the contributions of real-life EMTs.
“There’s a million stories that those guys tell you,” Bigley said. “They’re really helpful for the show.”
The stories help detail what Mosley calls “the broad brushstroke” of what Sirens is trying to do — showing the humorous detachment that is often needed to escape from the rigors of a grueling, and potentially shocking, job.
“There’s no other way to deal with it,” McNamee agreed.
Sirens airs Thursdays at 10pm ET on USA Network, beginning March 6 with two back-to-back episodes.
(l-r) Kevin Bigley, Kevin Daniels, Michael Mosley, Jessica McNamee — Credit F. Scott Schafer/USA Network