Southern Star already has one action drama in the marketplace in Rush, so it’s somewhat surprising it has opted for a second in the genre with Rescue: Special Ops.
This time it shifts the focus from Melbourne and TEN to Sydney and Nine. From police to paramedics and from Rodger Corser to Les Hill. Dressed around the edges of both there are emergency services, uniforms, sirens, choppers, jeopardy, heroes, high stakes, sex and lesson learning (presumably All Saints waved the white flag when it saw all these sirens coming).
Rescue: Special Ops centres around a team that does it all: abseiling, rock climbing, surf and sea rescue. Although falling officially under the domain of Ambulance, these guys are geared for far more than resuscitation and attending road accidents. They are the elite of Ambulance drivers. As such, they are at the frontline of Sydney’s 000 crises.
The first episode opens with missing teenagers in the Blue Mountains (suddenly 60 Minutes paying for Jamie Neale’s interview takes on a whole new context). With sweeping helicopter shots and stunning aerial cinematography, this series is already marking its turf as a serious contender. This unforgiving vista sets the scene for a monumental search and rescue task -we’re going to need some real heroes here.
At the centre of the plot is Dean Gallagher (Les Hill), the Unit Leader, and Lara Knight (Gigi Edgley) his accomplice. They are on the hunt for the teenagers whilst Michelle Letourneau (Libby Tanner) co-ordinates the rescue from her makeshift 4WD base. She has nervous classmates, worried parents and even media to contend with (60 Minutes perhaps?).
Also on the search are Jordan (Daniel Amalm) and Dean’s brother Chase (Andrew Lees), whilst Vince Marchello (Peter Phelps) co-ordinates a support team from the Sydney rescue base.
Via flashbacks and some loose clues it becomes clear the disappearance of the students conceals a deeper mystery. Another emergency subplot distracts our heroes while Michelle has her work cut out simply containing the victims from racking up.
Les Hill is terrific as a straight-shooting, alpha-male. He pits Dean as a pragmatic hero, with a no-fuss attitude to safety, rules and true grit. Gigi Edgley is on hand to ensure Lara highlights the cracks in his tough exterior.
Cinematography aside, the highlight of the opening episode is a scene of jeopardy with Dean battling to avert imminent peril. It’s everything we’ve seen before in the genre, but it’s done with such conviction you can’t help but get sucked in.
There are also elements of Cold Case-style storytelling here, with flashbacks and procedural detective-work filling out the background of how such emergencies took hold. It’s a bit of a cliche that gets in the way of the fiercer real-time action.
By episode two, with guest star Damian Walshe-Howling, Rescue broadens out to the personal lives of the central characters. Like many Nine dramas, it can’t help but add a dash of sex and romance and its opening scene is too flippant for the emergency at hand.
But when it hits the accelerator with hearts pounding and the clock ticking, Rescue really hits its mark.
Created by Sarah Smith and Julie McGauran, with its first two episodes directed by Peter Andrikidis, Rescue: Special Ops is a confidently woven piece that shines best in the danger zone.
Rescue: Special Ops premieres 8:30pm Sunday on Nine.