Saturday , May 25 2024

Rescue Me

Gotta admit that I wasn’t holding out much hopes for Rescue Me, fx’s new teledramedy about New York City firemen. I’m not much of a Denis Leary fan – his performances as both actor and comedian frequently hit the same monotonous note – while the show’s overplayed promo with its gung-ho “I’m no hero” sound bites didn’t promise much either. Yet after viewing the premiere ep in its commercial-free airing, I was reminded of one of the cardinal rules of teevee watching: don’t rule out a series just because the networks are too dumb to know how to properly sell it. Turns out Rescue Me makes a promising addition to fx’s lineup of basic cable edge-skirters.
The show revolves around the men of Engine 62, a crew of rough-hewn firefighters who struggle to carry on with their jobs three years after 9/11. Years after being lionized for their role in an event that cost them the lives of four of their own, they find themselves struggling against city politicos who attempt to shortchange ’em, a public that once more takes what they do for granted (“All that pussy I was gettin’ after 9/11,” Franco, the station’s ladies man moans) plus their own dark memories of that catastrophic day. Though disdaining the efforts of a woman shrink brought in to help them with that last, each of the veterans we see displays clear signs of Post-Traumatic Stress.
At the center of this is Leary’s Tommy Gavin, a mouthy near-burnout who is haunted by the ghosts of those he has failed to rescue and who’s driven to take deep swigs from a flask every time he has to go into a burning building. First time we see Gavin, he’s giving a Patton-styled speech to a group of firefighting upperclassmen where he emphatically pronounces that he’s uninterested in being a hero and that he just wants to be able to come home to his wife and kids every night. This sterling sentiment flies in the face of reality, however: in actuality, his marriage is on the rocks and Gavin’s moved into a house across the street where he can spy on his estranged wife Janet (Andrea Roth) and her financier lover, occasionally bribing his kids for updates on the family.
Leary plays this walking wound with his trademark piss-&-vinegar, but what keeps it from becoming obnoxiously strident are his character’s clear love for his kids, plus the ongoing dialogs we see him having with his dead cousin Jimmy (James McCaffrey). These latter moments are played with a mordant humor that’ll be familiar to fans of Six Feet Under (particularly in those sequences where family members have a chat with Dead Dad Fisher). But Leary and collaborator Peter Tolan play enough rude games with this device (sticking a talking severed head in Gavin’s locker, for instance) to keep it fresh – at least through the season opener.
Occasionally, you can see Leary & Tolan trying a little too hard to establish their characters: an early scene where a bunch of the boys good-naturedly pepper each other with ethnic slurs comes across a little too self-consciously writerly, for instance – it’s not that we don’t believe these guys would use such language, just not so patently. Too, Leary and his collaborator give Gavin two dramatic monologues describing the stresses of being a firefighter. While they both serve clear dramatic functions, it still struck me as one too many.
If Rescue Me overthinks its subject, it thankfully doesn’t do so at the expense of its characters’ humanity. Leary and his cast of believable mugs (also worth noting from the opener: Jack McGee’s Chief Reilly, a gambling addict so far gone that he wipes off a soot-covered teevee just to see how his team is doing) carry the story through its stagy moments and make you worry about ’em when they rush into smoke-filled buildings. From interviews with Leary, it’s clear that the subject has emotional resonance for him. But I still was surprised to see the wise-ass stand-up make something dramatically real from it. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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