Burning Sensation

Salt Lake City Weekly | October 1, 2004
Burning Sensation

FX’s Rescue Me is the best series on TV, cable or otherwise. Too bad it’s almost over.



Aside from the inevitable arrival of Catwoman at the dollar theaters (easier to sneak booze into, a valuable high-school lesson), the event I’ve been most anticipating since July is the conclusion of Rescue Me (FX; season finale Wednesday, Oct. 13). How creators/writers Denis Leary and Peter Tolan are going to wrap the wild first season of the most ambitious and addictive series on cable—sorry, but Nip/Tuck’s recent run was apparently penned by a coalition of serial killers, porn addicts and Libertarians—is as beyond my sensory reach as Catwoman without a cold case.

To recap: Rescue Me follows the post-9/11 travails of Manhattan firefighter Tommy Gavin (Leary), an NYFD vet who lost four crew members in the World Trade Center attack, including his cousin and best friend, Jimmy (James McCaffrey). Three years later, Tommy’s still a walking wreck. He’s fallen off the wagon, he’s in the middle of a divorce from his fed-up wife (Andrea Roth) who now lives across the street, and he’s seeing dead people—notably Jimmy, who, unlike Tommy’s other ghosts from the WTC, drops by frequently to point out how effdup Tommy’s life has become.

The rest of his 62 Truck crew, even the newbies who weren’t around for 9/11, are no better off, an emotionally shut-down boys’ club who prefer boozing, screwing and fighting to even the mere suggestion of showing “feelings.” It’s a hard nut of a cast, with nary a sympathetic character to be found. Even Tommy’s dead apparition of a conscience, Jimmy, is a bit of a bastard: After Tommy gets drunk and nails his lonely widow (Callie Thorne) when he’s supposedly just “looking out for her,” Jimmy doses him with gasoline and torches him up in a guilt-ridden dream.

Yes, Rescue Me is one of the funniest shows on TV.

That is, if you like your comedy of the none-more-black flavor. Back when Six Feet Under had a sense of humor, it was doled out sparingly to keep the show from becoming a 55-minute infomercial for death, depression and dysfunction—you know, like it is now. Rescue Me, much like Leary and Tolan’s bravely failed 2001 network outing The Job, is grounded in (admittedly, dark) comedy, even when the drama is crashing down like two tons of burning roof.

When his estranged wife starts dating another man, Tommy pays Jimmy’s computer-hacker son to freeze the guy’s credit. When his teenage daughter decides she’s a lesbian, Tommy’s relieved because now he doesn’t to worry about boys, and even jokes about training her to become a golf pro. When he carries on an affair with a hot young thing for weeks without ever learning her name, Tommy finally blows it when he has to introduce her to his wife. (Yes, there’s probably more sex on Rescue Me than any basic-cable series ever, if you’re wondering.) When Tommy’s priest confronts him about his extramarital affairs at his mother’s funeral, it escalates into a fistfight. You don’t see many firefighter/priest punch-ups on TV, cable or otherwise.

Still, Rescue Me isn’t Leary’s one-man show—the sharp supporting cast gets equal play, sometimes in even more bizarre situations. Even Diane Farr (also of The Job), who’s shown up late in the game as the firehouse’s token female enduring machismo-fueled abuse from a resentful crew, makes more impact in her brief scenes here than she did in an entire season of last year’s craptacular network sitcom, Like Family.

Which wraps this package up in a neat bow: Done right, cable trumps network in providing risky, creative programming for adults who’ve otherwise sworn off TV thanks to countless hours of ground-down mush deemed safe to broadcast to 10-year-olds—“For the Children” inevitably means “Not For Anyone Else.” Right now, Rescue Me (which has been picked up by FX for a second season in 2005) is the epitome of everything that’s right about cable, and even though I don’t want it to end, I can’t wait to see how it ends.

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