What draws viewers to CBS’s rookie drama Fire Country like a moth to a flame? Well-drawn characters with everything to lose. Nail-biting action. Thrilling sequences that put you at the center of danger. And a unique conceit: Two groups of courageous hose-toting Northern California firefighters—the local Cal Fire squad and the Three Rock inmates who are part of an uncommon prison work-release program — battle blazes together to save lives. It makes for first-responder broadcast TV at its best.

But there’s a secret sauce to the popularity of the top new broadcast series of the season, which has won its 9/8c time-slot against other entertainment programming every week since its October 7 debut — it’s the redemption story of Bode Donovan, played by SEAL Team alum Max Thieriot. Working off a three- to five-year prison sentence with the squad, this prodigal son has reluctantly returned to his hometown, haunted by memories that drove a wedge between him and his dad — who, along with his mom, runs Cal Fire — and his onetime best friend, fireman Jake Crawford (Jordan Calloway).

Max Thieriot and Stephanie Arcila in 'Fire Country'

(Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/CBS)

Having recently been granted a second-season order for 2023–24, the series adds more sizzle in time for Valentine’s Day: The love triangle between Bode, Jake, and Jake’s ex, newbie Cal Fire member Gabriela Perez (Stephanie Arcila), is coming to a boil. Ever since Gabriela saved Bode from drowning in the January 6 episode — he later heroically carried her out of the forest — viewers have wondered if “Bodiela” will catch fire. And that’s hardly the only pressing question on a show where the risks are so high that one beloved character won’t live to see the end of the season.

Love Is in the Air

The romantic heat between Bode and Gabriela is unmistakable, as the January 29 episode makes plain. Recently single after admitting she wasn’t completely invested in her relationship with Jake, Gabriela has cautiously approached a bond with Bode. Jake, aware of the closeness that’s been growing between Bode and his ex, is licking his wounds. Can he really just step away from the woman who brought him out of his shell? “Jake’s going to give a bit of a fight,” Calloway says, smiling. “That’s a tough pill for him to swallow.”

And while Gabriela wants to take things slowly (“She’s being as emotionally intelligent as she can,” says Arcila), the heart wants what it wants. “There’s this undeniable thing that Bode and Gabriela have been trying to fight,” begins Thieriot, also a cocreator and executive producer of the series, “but they’re losing that struggle. And he and Jake were best friends. Can they overcome this? It’s all juicy stuff to deal with.”

Deadly Force

Romance aside, a tragic reckoning is in the works. “We have life-or-death stakes baked into the show and we’ve been gentle with the death side of that coin,” says exec producer Tia Napolitano, who exclusively breaks the news that “We are going to lose someone who we love a lot. It’ll come as a great shock.” Could a valiant mission to save someone or stop a blaze be responsible for the death?

Not necessarily: Bode’s hard-loving mother, devoted Cal Fire division chief Sharon Leone (Diane Farr), is battling kidney failure. Bode is a donor match, but Sharon has told her husband, Battalion 1508 Chief Vince (Billy Burke), she doesn’t want their son to give up a vital organ. Could someone else emerge? “The potential roads to Sharon getting the kidney she needs to survive are going to be unexpected, and how we solve that for her is a twist on a twist,” Napolitano teases.

This is an abbreviated version of TV Guide Magazine’s Fire Country cover story. For more on the series, as well as the La Brea‘s return, the Super Bowl, and more, pick up the issue on newsstands Thursday, January 26.

Fire Country, Fridays, 9/8c, CBS (Special episode airing Sunday, January 29, 10/9c or immediately following the AFC Championship Game)

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