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New season: NBC's Trauma strives to survive with Tyrannosaurus Wrecks

Cliff Curtis co-stars in NBC's explosive Trauma. NBC photos

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Cliff Curtis, Derek Luke, Anastasia Griffith, Aimee Garcia, Kevin Rankin, Taylor Kinney, Jamey Sheridan
Produced by: Peter Berg, Sarah Aubrey, Jeffrey Reiner, Peter Noah, Dario Scardapane

NBC's The Jay Leno Show takes money off the screen with its comparatively skimpy budget.

The same network's Trauma puts some of it back on with its comparatively expensive pyrotechnics in Monday's premiere episode.

"We can do three shows for what it costs to blow up a helicopter," Leno said half in jest during a recent teleconference with TV critics.

Produced by Peter Berg and some of the key players from his Friday Night Lights crew, Trauma heats up in its early minutes with a spectacular chopper collision by series TV standards. It kills seven people in the air and on the ground, serving as a very sobering backdrop for an action-drama that then fast-forwards to the one-year anniversary of "the worst rescue disaster in San Francisco history."

Heavily scarred -- emotionally at least -- are paramedics Nancy Carnahan (Anastasia Griffith) and Cameron Boone (Derek Luke). Her paramedic par amour was one of the seven victims. And she'd been bangin' him in uniform just minutes before the mayhem.

Meanwhile, the haunted Boone still can't "bring this home to my family." Instead he keeps returning home in the wee hours, when everyone's asleep. It doesn't help that he's also developed a wandering eye.

Some of this is over-done, and then burned to a crisp when the crash's sole survivor, daredevil flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuk (Cliff Curtis), returns to the team after a year's absence. He's still kinda crazed and dazed, driving his car recklessly through San Fran during off-duty hours because he considers himself immortal after emerging from a coma.

Along for Rabbit's far-fetched tire-squealing ride is rookie chopper pilot Marisa Benez (Aimee Garcia). She protests to no avail until his survivor's guilt claims the finger of an inebriated motorist whose car he sideswipes. Friday Night Lights fans will recognize the actor as the same guy -- Brad Leland -- who plays car dealer/intrusive alumnus Buddy Garrity on the Austin-made series.

Trauma's premiere also includes a chain-collision pileup caused by a text messaging dolt. It's not known yet whether Leno's overall cost-savings will keep rebounding to this show's advantage in future episodes. NBC press materials describe Trauma as an "adrenaline shot to the heart" -- and for that you probably need at least one big boom per week.

Most of the principal characters are decently drawn, even if the opener tends to hyper-extend some of them. This includes an all-too-typical scene in which the still traumatized Carnahan -- "I need a save today" -- demands that further life-saving measures be taken on an already thoroughly dead victim.

Trauma follows NBC's Heroes, which currently is on a ratings respirator. So that won't help its chances on a Monday night when it then must face off at 8 p.m. (central) against CBS' hit comedies and ABC's expanded editions of Dancing with the Stars.

In that context, Rescue Us might be a more apt title. The drama in Trauma has scant chance to survive both its lead-in show and the fearsome competition.

GRADE: B-minus