There’s no shortage of TV shows and movies about first responders and the medical profession to choose from. Thanks to the wild success of shows like Grey’s Anatomy, viewers have become intrigued with the behind-the-scenes look at a group of people with wild stories from their job. 9-1-1 has taken its place in these ranks.
With the star power of Angela Bassett Athena as its anchor, the show has surprisingly become a powerful response to toxic masculinity. From the supportive, nurturing leadership of Bobby (Peter Krause), to Buck’s (Oliver Stark) journey from womanizer to a man in touch with his emotions, the show offers a look at what men have the potential to be. And the show normalizes frank discussions of feelings that lead to problem-solving and mutual support among characters.
Bobby Nash, the 118’s fearless leader is a deeply flawed man who is allowed to process his mistakes. He is open about seeking support and attending groups for people like him living with addiction. It’s a credit to the show to portray addiction and mental health in such an open way through a main character. And it’s characters like this that work on reducing the stigma out of these predicaments in the real world.
His relationship with Athena is a partnership of equals and also an interesting example of toxic masculinity taking a backseat. Bobby has taken the role of supportive spouse and step-father and also nurtures the relationship between his step-children and their father. He also doesn’t allow his masculinity to be threatened by Athena’s leadership and their relationship is healthier for it.
Then there are the other men of the 118.
Through Eddie (Ryan Guzman), we get to see fatherhood normalized. He is physically and emotionally supportive of his son on his own journey. He consistently makes his role as a father his first priority. Even in the context of his new, budding romantic relationship, his job as a father remains his most important one.
From the beginning of his character arc, Howard “Chimney” Han (Kenneth Choi) has been the definition of supportive. From his first days, he has been an emotional backbone for the entire unit. He is empathetic and caring towards Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) as she processes her own trauma and most recently in her experience with post-partum depression. His friendship with Henrietta “Hen” Wilson (Aisha Hinds) is characterized by supporting her in her dream to become a doctor. His masculinity and sense of self are never threatened in the face of these women and their prowess.
Perhaps this phenomenon is seen most clearly in the character of Buck. When we first meet him, he is very much the stereotype of a white, straight, cis-gendered man who has an air of entitlement. Crucially, it’s his male colleagues that consistently take him down several pegs. And he has been held accountable particularly by his captain and faces the natural consequences of his actions multiple times.
Buck has gone on a journey through each season to face his own demons and do the work to become a better man. And he’s done all this without using those around him as a crutch, particularly the women in his life. His relationships with women, namely his sister Maddie and his new relationship with Taylor (Megan West), are shown to be much healthier and meaningful after doing much-needed internal reflection.
Even 9-1-1‘s secondary male characters, like dispatcher Josh (Bryan Safi) and Athena’s first husband Michael (Rockmond Dunbar), are shown to have both incredible emotional depth. Their identities as members of the LGBTQ+ community are fully integrated into their characters in a compassionate and honest way. They respond to problems not with violence or aggression, but by seeking support and validation from ones they trust.
It’s so important that a show like 9-1-1 continues to build on these ideas that masculinity doesn’t have to look only one way. So many shows about first responders showcase a macho version of masculinity rather than being allowed to feel their feelings, grow, and learn from their mistakes of the past. 9-1-1 offers this alternative to its male characters and we can only hope more shows follow suit.
After seeing the incredible start to Season 5, we can’t wait to see what else 9-1-1 has in store for the rest of this season, and we can only hope more shows will give us all a better representation of the positive masculinity that we so desperately need in 2021 and beyond.
9-1-1 Season 5 airs Mondays 9/8c on Fox.