The Rescue Me Retrospective

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My god it's been so long, never dreamed you'd return, but now here you are, and here I am.
Hearts and thoughts they fade...
Hearts and thoughts they fade...
-Pearl Jam In preparation for their final season, Rescue Me has been running a promo with this Pearl Jam song in the background while the camera drifts around the firehouse and nondescript figures fade out of the screen.
The beauty of this promo is it perfectly captures the excellence of the show in addition to the maddening frustration of its loyal fans.
With the final season beginning tonight at 10 PM on FX (you're welcome FX), it seemed appropriate to take a look back at the show.
The Early Years One cannot underestimate the brilliance of the first season and a half of Rescue Me.
Tommy Gavin and the rest of the crew of the Ladder 62 truck showcased all the best and the worst of a "Boys Club" mentality: The endless jokes and pranks (all hilarious), the beautiful lack of sensitivity (well respected), and the lack of understanding or appreciation for the women in their lives (well done).
This was male testosterone at its very finest.
The rest of the crew featured The Womanizer (Franco), The Fat Guy (Lou), The Dumb Guy (Sean), The New Guy (Mike), and The Boss (Chief Reilly).
Together, these six guys highlighted the best parts of the male ego, while desperately trying to hide the fragile parts (to often spectacularly hilarious effect).
The standout moment of the early years is the scene where all the guys attend sensitivity training because Lou had a complaint filed against him by a female firefighter in the house (the overrated Diane Farr).
The guys proceed to let loose every racial and ethnic slur that can be thought of to the horror of the guy in charge of the training.
(At one point, Franco complains that the Puerto Ricans get only one ethnic slur: "Puerto Ricans, we get shafted even when it comes to racism.
") The look on the sensitivity trainer's face is priceless.
He can't believe that just happened and neither can we.
The show attacked our insecurities and our sensitivities and made us laugh at them.
It was brilliant television.
The Decline And then it all turned on us.
Suddenly, and for seemingly no apparent reason, the show turned from being about the camaraderie of these 6 firefighters and became something far more depressing.
I don't mind a dark turn in a drama, but it became a bit too much.
Consider the following storylines from seasons 2-5: Tommy and his brother Johnny find that they have a half brother that their dad had during his long affair outside of his marriage.
The brothers try to determine if their priest-brother is a pedophile.
Lou is conned out of his entire life savings by a prostitute named Candy.
Tommy's son Connor is killed by a drunk driver.
The drunk driver is later shot and killed by Tommy's Uncle Teddy.
Tommy's ex-wife starts sleeping with his brother Johnny.
Tommy's cousin's widow (who he's sleeping with) begins to drug Tommy with a combination of roofies and Viagra.
Franco dates a rich older woman (played by Susan Sarandon) who ends up stealing his daughter from him, which he can't do anything about because he stole her from foster care.
Janet becomes pregnant.
We are unsure if the father is Tommy or Johnny.
Johnny is shot and killed.
Sheila accidentally burns down a house with her and Tommy inside after drugging Tommy again.
After being put on desk duty because of his declining health, Chief Reilly commits suicide.
Tommy gives Janet's new baby to Sheila for an agreed upon sum of $850,000.
Tommy does this because Janet is suffering from severe post-partum depression, and Tommy believes this is the best course of action.
Tommy's dad passes away while sitting next to his son at a baseball game.
Lou lets Candy move in with him after she resurfaces and begs forgiveness.
Lou marries Candy, finds out she is inheriting a small fortune, finds out her real name is Barbara and that she is wanted for fraud, clears out their joint bank account, and calls the cops on her.
Tommy's family all fall off the wagon and resume drinking.
Uncle Teddy's wife Elle drives drunk and is killed in the resulting car accident.
Uncle Teddy blames Tommy for his wife's death and shoots him twice in the shoulder to watch him bleed to death.
I did not make any of those up.
The obvious question anyone who had not seen the show would ask is "Why would you keep watching?" The answer is simple.
The acting was superlative.
Denis Leary truly embodies Tommy Gavin.
Granted, it's probably not that much of a stretch from Denis Leary to Tommy Gavin, but he does it beautifully nonetheless.
Steven Pasquale does such a great job playing Sean Garrity that if I ever meet him, I will expect him to be as dumb as Garrity.
Lou has had some of the better one-liners of the entire show, and nobody plays drunk like John Scurti.
Daniel Sunjata has been outstanding as Franco.
In addition, there have been some impressive guest spots by the likes of Maura Tierney, Sarandon, and Michael J.
Fox (won an Emmy for it) to name a few.
Despite the ridiculous plotlines, we kept coming back because of the rare moments of brilliance that still occurred.
In season 5, Tommy begins to drink at an empty bar owned by one of the firefighters and begins to converse with the ghosts of his cousin, father, and brother.
At one point, Tommy has a truly profound moment when he tells the specter of his father, "You never told us what to do after.
" Tommy is pointing out that his father has taught him everything he knows about being a hero, but nothing about being a husband or a father.
The moment is emotional, sad, and riveting all that same time.
It makes me realize that being a husband and a father are the two most important responsibilities I have in this world.
Very few shows touch our emotions in that way.
It remains my favorite dramatic scene of the entire series.
The interesting thing is that scene has parallels to the entire series.
It's as if Denis Leary and Peter Tolan created season 1 but nobody told them what to do after.
The series lost its way somewhere in the midst of season two and never made it back.
The numbers show that the viewers tend to agree: Season 1- 2.
7 million average Season 2- 2.
8 million average Season 3 Finale- 3.
3 million (watch what happens here) Season 4 Premiere- 2.
8 million Season 5 Average- 2.
3 million Season 6 Premiere- 1.
9 million The series was continually losing steam, but something strange happened in season 6: The show began to bounce back.
The threat of closing the firehouse, plus the addition of Tommy's nephew brought the focus of the show back to the firehouse and the core group (with the additions of Black Sean and Chief Needles).
Though the season finale garnered only 1.
6 million viewers, there was a clear effort on the part of the writers to interject more humor into the proceedings.
While the show didn't reach the dizzying heights seen in seasons 1 and 2, the show churned out solid efforts like a 35 year old starting pitcher who is still effective, but doesn't have his good fastball.
A lot of the people I have spoken to about Rescue Me say they are hopeful that the momentum built in season 6 will lead to a strong finish in season 7.
Here's hoping they are right.
The most frustrating part of Rescue Me is it leaves me wondering what could have been.
Most likely the show will be remembered fondly for all of the reasons already stated.
That being said, Rescue Me had the chance to be a Hall of Fame show.
The show was regularly nominated for Emmys and breaking basic cable TV ratings records.
Along with The Shield, it put FX on the map as a place of high quality, gritty drama.
Unfortunately for us all, nobody told them what to do after.
The TV Czar
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