A Review of "Rescue Me" (Seasons 1-5)

Author: Vivid Muse  //  Category: Chooch, TV, Vestibular Migraine

Spoilers sprinkled throughout.

The description of Denis Leary’s show Rescue Me always intrigued me, but I never remembered to set the DVR to record it. With the migraines I’ve been dealing with, I can’t sleep, read, study, knit or spend much time on the computer. I’ve been taking advantage of Netflix and mainlined the show over the last two weeks. Chooch is now watching it, and just finished Season Two. Season Six is on disc only, so I’m waiting for him to catch up before I watch it.

The show is set in a New York city fire house after 9/11. Denis Leary plays Tommy Gavin, the most cavalier fireman in his house and because of this he makes some of the most epic saves and is known department-wide as a hero. It’s a tough show to watch, as there are very raw and ugly scenes of the guys on the job rescuing people from deadly crisis. The worst is the babies that die in the fires, but you quickly feel that these men are otherworldly in they’re ability to run towards fires when everyone else is running away. The things they see and experience are scenes straight from what I envision hell to be like, and in many cases the emotional impact makes it far worse then anything I could imagine.

There are some really absurd moments and completely ridiculous situations. In some ways it is very much a soap opera set in a very masculine and testosterone laden world. There are also some contentious and highly offensive story lines dealing with racism and homophobia. Despite this, the delivery of it shows the flaws and frailties of the characters and how human they are in dealing with their problems and lives. Mainlining it as I have, it’s more obvious that the show makes fun of itself and the soap-opera like story lines.

The characters are simply caricatures at first, but all are developed into interesting, funny, charming and tragic figures. Denis Leary’s Tommy Gavin is a raw and many times vile person, succumbing to alcohol and drug addiction, lying and betraying almost everyone outside of his fellow firefighters.  He crosses many lines with them, but it seems as though there is a forgiveness within the family they’ve created there that wouldn’t be possible elsewhere. I knew he was a good actor after seeing him hold his own alongside Kevin Spacey in The Ref years ago, but he is fantastic in this role. It’s bound to be comfortable for him, seeing as how he created the series and the character, presumably. And if it weren’t for the heavy emotional story line, a drinking game could be made using his grunts and growls as the trigger.

While the series is focused primarily on Tommy and his family, this show has an amazing ensemble cast. It started with mostly unknowns, but over the seasons more familiar names pop up either briefly or as permanent additions. My favorite character is Lieutenant Ken Shea, Tommy Gavin’s best friend, and is damaged, insightful and hilarious.

It’s hard to feel sorry for the main two women in Tommy’s life, his wife Janet and his cousin’s 9/11 widow Sheila. Initially, Sheila is a tragic figure in that she is obviously still deep in grief. Actually, this persists throughout the five seasons, but her behavior is continually manipulative an dangerous at points. In their own ways they are insane, manipulative and drove him to many of his deepest and darkest moments. That said, they are extremely strong in their frailties and weaknesses. Tommy himself is loathsome in his relationships and sexual behavior, but at the same time I find him utterly compelling. He’s obnoxious and I wouldn’t want to know him in real life, but watching his story play out on TV fascinates me.

Over the entire series, the grief from what they experience on 9/11 and during the clean-up at Ground Zero is pervasive and nearly always simmering below the surface. It makes sense given their jobs and the shrines that surround them that were set up for their fallen brothers. I suppose to some it may seem as if they should just get over it an move on. The fact that Tommy is haunted by his cousin and others as the show continues keeps it all very real as he negotiates his way around his disastrous life.

Season Five takes a turn into some strange territory. In spite of the critical acclaim, it’s taken a bit of time to get to the point where it tries to take on more and reach beyond what it is to something deeper. I typically hate when shows do this, dating back to when I watched M.A.S.H. in the early ’80s. Because it’s done with a wink, it really wasn’t too bad.

Overall, I have greatly enjoyed the series so far. It is hilarious, heart-breaking, offensive, poignant, shocking and sickening. I think even the never-ending bashing of homosexuals, women and other races serve to teach a lesson about tolerance. I can’t wait for Chooch to catch up so I can see what Season Six has in store for me.

Unrelated fact I just learned? Alan Alda was born as Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo.

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