Sirens Series One Review: Dial 999 For Comedy

SIRENS SERIES ONE: Released on DVD on Monday 12th March

A show about paramedics, or most specifically EMTs (emergency medical technicians), and their lives as the front-line of emergency medicine, at first Channel 4’s Sirens seems like a straight up comedy-drama. First appearances though, can be oh-so deceiving…

“You start off thinking that it is a serious drama,â€? says Rhys Thomas (Bellamy’s People) reveals, sitting down with his two co-stars Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, Birdsong) and Kayvan Novak (Four Lions) in Soho to discuss the show with OTB, “and then it goes off down a different route. If you look at the posters, you get the impression that it is about paramedics but it’s not just another medical drama, and nor is it a spoof. “We deal with stress, grief, when you do that kind of job you encounter death every single day, and it’s about how you react to that.â€?

A difficult tone to nail, Sirens is pitched somewhere between Green Wing and Casualty, its comedy and drama virtues in equal measure never at the expense of the other, or as co-star Richard Madden explains: “Sometimes it is completely surreal and abstract, and sometimes it is a regular drama comedyâ€?.

Based on the blog-turned book Blood, Sweat and Tears by real-life EMT Tom Reynolds, Sirens follows the lives of Stuart (Thomas), Ashley (Madden) and Rachid (Novak), a team of EMTs in Leeds, as they struggle to balance the stress and shock inherent in their work with their equally as calamitous personal lives. Stuart is angry and worn down through his front line medical experience, fed up with dealing with drunks at the expense of people who need real help; Ashley’s a confident and assured gay Glaswegian, with a good job, nice flat and money, but lost as to what to do next with his life; and Rachid, the trio’s new recruit who’s, as Novak puts it, “angry, cocky and stupid, with a chip on his shoulder.â€?

This odd-trio group – Novak and Thomas have ample comedy pedigree but less drama experience, Madden the opposite CV balance – came together through a round of auditions, the threesome first fighting off competition from another trio of ‘Stuart-Ashley-Rachid’s and then, once cast, being subjected to some intensive, and enlightening on-the-job training.

“We all went out with paramedics for the night to see what they did, because it is one of those jobs where you don’t know what you are going to see next – I ended up delivered a baby!â€? Thomas explains. “This poor woman, this was her fourth kid and she was at home but her husband kept on moaning, and going outside for a fag and to talk about the rugby with the neighbours.â€?

Madden’s experience though was perhaps the most unpredictable of the three. “We went and picked up this old lady who had dementia and had fallen over. She wasn’t in good shape and her daughter was crying and so we took her to the back of the ambulance and I could hear this music – it was Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance – and the EMT goes ‘We can play it in the back,’ and then turns it up. So it comes blaring out, the daughter is crying, and the suddenly the dementia patient starts dancing, and that was when I got what the show could be, how it could be funny and dark and real and moving too.â€?

This unpredictability in the lives of the EMTS drives the show’s humour and its drama, their oft perceived ambivalence at the harshest of events – one policeman quizzing Richard on the show he was researching for… literally conducted over a dead body – and the impact their job has on their out-of-hours lives forming the crux of the narrative. The rivalry between the emergency services too is illustrated, an on-location accident involving a fire department crew heckling the actors they mistook for real EMTs captured as the cameras rolled and slipped in to the series opener.

Often working ten days in a row, ten hour shifts, their long ten hour plus shifts punctuated with human pain and suffering (as well as the odd, and obligatory FOA – foreign object in arse – incident), the EMTs’ methods of coping are highlighted in series’ first episode. After a graphic car crash, the trio are left to face a maelstrom of emotions or, as EMT counsellor puts it, ‘up-horny-down’ syndrome, a real reaction experienced by crews, with some members succumbing and others trying to control their biological reactions.

“There are emotional little twists in there,â€? Thomas teases of the series’ future direction though, which will flesh out the characters more, developing series-spanning arcs alongside each individual episode’s enclosed story. Episode three will focus on Rachid, his fear of death and dying alone brought on after he is called to the body of a young man, episode four focuses on Ashley, a gay character “completely undefined by his sexualityâ€? as Madden explains, with five focussing on Maxine (xxx), a policewoman with whom Stuart has a burgeoning relationship.

Fusing drama and comedy in the same way that the EMTs’ experience combines the surreal with the devastating, Thomas reveals that the show will go on to push the boundaries more and more as it develops. “It is quite racy, and a bit rude, and it will probably offend people but the audience it is aimed at won’t necessarily be offended.â€?