‘Rescue Me’ really isn’t that good

Rescue Me
The all-boys club that makes up the “Rescue Me” cast.

Warning: Spoilers through the June 27 episode of “Rescue Me” follow.

I got into “Rescue Me” when FX was repeating the first season. I was entertained by its style, which was one part half-serious drama, and one part scathing insult comedy. It contained a certain reverence for the plight of New York City firefighters but at the same time did not forgive them their sins and bad habits. Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary), often an obnoxious drunk, was shown as just that, and when he’d fall back on 9/11 as an excuse for his boorish behavior, the show did not always agree with him.

I enjoyed the series’ snappy dialog, particularly in the scenes in the firehouse, where the guys would stand around making un-PC jokes and insulting each other. “Rescue Me” had few, if any, sacred cows, and the writing was willing to “go there” — the “there” sometimes being rude, insensitive, and offensive. Sometimes it fell flat, sometimes it was funny.

But with great power (or in this case, temerity) comes great responsibility, and the writers of “Rescue Me” (headed by Leary and Peter Tolan) have often chosen not to exercise much responsibility. This has made it very obvious to me that “Rescue Me,” despite its fervent fans, has never been able to flirt with greatness. It has sometimes been a good show; it has never been a great show. And recently, it has become even a not-so-good show. When someone tells me they think “Rescue Me” is the best show on TV, I wonder what the hell they’re thinking. This show is way too inconsistent to be taken seriously as even a good show, let alone a great one.

The problem, as I see it, is that the writing is simply too flighty. The show’s wink-wink elbow-in-your-ribs style has sometimes been a huge detriment to its dramatic intentions. The over-the-top sexual situations are by far the most unlikely and ludicrous as I’ve seen on any TV series. Apparently, everyone on the FDNY is a chick-magnet, and these guys are simply dogs. It’s supposed to be funny, I get it, but the show jettisons all plausibility for its sex jokes. No self-respecting woman would put up with these guys.

And here’s a series that wants to pretend to be a Serious Drama about firefighters and then writes off all its serious intentions as a big joke when it’s time to deal with the real-world consequences. Tommy’s daughter gets seriously injured in a car crash, Tommy’s house gets set on fire, Tommy’s son gets killed by a drunk driver, etc. — and by the following week, everything is made far too simplistically okay. Crushing blows are depicted merely for immediate dramatic impact. There’s something to be said for writing a show that’s willing to put major life changes in the paths of its main characters, but you have to follow through on those intentions for it to work, and “Rescue Me” utterly refuses to do that.

This was most obvious last season when the death of Tommy’s brother Johnny (Dean Winters), which should’ve been a major blow, was reduced to a farce with an embarassingly bad, bad, bad funeral scene, which treated his death as if the whole thing were a lame joke. They might as well have been pissing on the character’s grave. Certainly, the show was pissing on its audience. If we’re not supposed to take this the least bit seriously, what’s the point? The point of Johnny’s death apparently was that Johnny was an asshole while he was alive and that nobody really missed him. Well, guess what? Tommy is an even bigger asshole than Johnny.

The same problem goes with that season’s highly controversial scene where Tommy raped his wife, Janet (Andrea Roth). The scene made so little sense as to be truly confusing, and then the show casually danced away from all the consequences, instead writing it off as a joke about the sick mutual codependence between Tommy and Janet.

The show’s misogyny certainly doesn’t help. All the female characters are either annoying, con artists, or just plain crazy, as is the case with Sheila (Callie Thorne). “Rescue Me” is an all-boys club. Sometimes entertaining, yes, but lacking any respect for life as it must actually be lived in a real world with two genders.

The most recent outrage was the “shocking” suicide of Chief Reilly (Jack McGee) in the June 27 episode. It came out of left field and made absolutely no sense. So little sense did it make, in fact, that I figured it would be the latest twist that could be written off as Not What It Seems. (It looked like he put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, but maybe he really missed when the screen went to black.) But I learn from the Internet that McGee’s character indeed has been written off the show, while the trailers for the next episode make no mention of it whatsoever, instead focusing on the latest snappy comeback line by Leary.

As far as I’m concerned, “Rescue Me” jumped the shark with Johnny’s funeral, but the absurd suicide of Reilly is not shocking so much as a pointless and unbelievable exit of what was one of the ensemble’s more realistic and sympathetic characters.

“Rescue Me” has its qualities, but they are quickly being outweighed by its determination to take drastic plot measures without the willingness to back them up with real consequences. Meanwhile, Tolan’s and Leary’s approach to the show, as if everything is the subject for a stand-up routine, is quickly turning a quasi-drama into a complete farce where the characters are merely fodder for shocking developments that mean nothing to anybody.

This show needs to quickly re-identify the line separating comedy and drama, and realize that while you can make a funny drama, you can’t make all the moments of drama simply the setups for punch lines.

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12 comments on this post

B. Stewart
Monday, July 9, 2007, 12:04 pm (UTC -6)

Wow Jammer.. Usually I agree with just about everything you write but now you go and trash the best show on TV!

Tommy did not “rape” his wife. It started out that way but she was an active participant after a few minutes and it always pisses me off when people call this a rape scene. Janet was 100% calculated in that scene and in just about everything she does on the show. Also, the chief’s suicide I predicted from about the first 10 minutes of the show. Once it showed him eating his dinner alone, you could tell for sure it was goodnight. I understand it perfectly. He has absolutely nothing left to live for. His son, while he loves him, is living a life he doesnt approve of in a different city. His wife is gone, despite her body being alive. And now finally, the very most important thing in his life, his job and his men, are taken from him. Yes its a rather extreme solution to the problem that you or I probally wouldnt resort to but you could totally see it coming.

I will say that season 4 so far has been a little slow but on the whole this is the best show on TV. It is meant as a Drama/Comedy rather than a straight Drama and it seems you have wholly or partially forgotten that when judging the show. The sexual situations etc. are designed purely for comedy, as are most of the show’s misogynistic leanings. Its the show I most look forward to every year and I cant wait to watch it every week. I credit you with turning me onto “The Shield” but surely you agree that show has had its weak moments too. So c’mon c’mon and get with it Jammer!

Jamahl Epsicokhan
Monday, July 9, 2007, 3:21 pm (UTC -6)

How is it “not rape” if it starts as rape and then “becomes” consensual after a few minutes — or for that matter, a few seconds? Perhaps in the minds of the writers it became “not rape” retroactively because Janet decided that she wanted it, but that falls outside the normal behavior of most people — and doesn’t change the fact that it WAS rape. Tommy did what he did, and Janet’s reaction after the fact is beside the point. I cannot and will not defend this scene.

The fact that this is how Tommy and Janet then start up a new affair is, in my opinion, beyond ridiculous. If it’s about these two being sick individuals, I could maybe understand it, but I don’t see the pathology here.

As for Reilly’s suicide, I can’t defend that either. After all he had been through, he showed nothing but strength and determination. For him to take a bullet rather than a downtown paper-pusher job is, in my opinion, a stretch. Even Jack McGee has come out and said as much.

The bottom line is the writing on this show is inconsistent. The show does shocking things, but refuses to confront those shocking things honestly once they happen. The exception would be the death of Tommy’s son, which had an actual aftermath — but even that, with Uncle Teddy’s resulting prison stint played solely for laughs, seems like a bit of a cop-out.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the funny aspects of “Rescue Me”; it’s why I keep watching. But the dramatic aspects are undermined by the show’s unwillingness to follow through on them.

B. Stewart
Monday, July 9, 2007, 6:59 pm (UTC -6)

Dude, that whole scene IS about them being two sick individuals!! How can you dismiss Janet’s behavior throughout the entire series?? It completely and totally explains that “rape” scene . Believe me, I am no advocate of rape, I think it is possibly the worst crime one can commit, but maybe you should watch that scene again and watch how Janet reacts. Theres a reason that a case like that would get thrown out in court and thats because she consented. The fact that they started up their little affair after that only reinforces that notion.

I was sad to see Reilly go as well and honestly I dont like when I can predict things like that so easily. It seemed a little needless but still, no show is perfect and I’m sure we’ll see some fallout from it. Whether that fallout has merit or not is how we should judge the suicide itself and the decision to write/produce it.

Nicole
Monday, July 9, 2007, 9:42 pm (UTC -6)

I am starting to tire of Rescue Me because of the “all women must fall for Tommy” storylines. It sorta relates to the “rape” scene in that all women involved with Tommy are portrayed as super crazy. Yes, so Tommy and Janet have a messed up relationship, but then so does Tommy and Sheila and the new girl must be crazy too to try to hook up with a divorced (or not) alcoholic firefighter who is living with his ex-wife and raising his possible new child. Tommy Gavin is not that hot, maybe Denis Leary is, but he has a lot more money and fame. This strains credibility and since it isn’t played for laughs, it seems like an ego stroke more than anything.

The Probie/Garrity stuff is still pretty decent, but with the Chief gone, I just don’t know who will be able to pull off the more dramatic moments, other than Lou.

B van Oppen
Monday, July 9, 2007, 9:51 pm (UTC -6)

Now I haven’t seen this show, but I would like to comment on what I’ve read.

Jammer says the chief’s suicide came out of nowhere and Stewert I think is saying the beginning of the episode forshadowed it. So taking both those statements into account I’m getting the impression that there was little to no build up in previous episodes, which I for one think would be necessary to be sold on a suicide.

While I haven’t seen the show, this is what I’m getting from both of your reactions.

Oh, and while fallout very important, you need to have a solid premise too. BSG’s “Scar” comes to mind. Amazing characterization and fallout, but it too kind of came out of nowhere.

Jamahl Epsicokhan
Monday, July 9, 2007, 10:03 pm (UTC -6)

I’m not dismissing Janet’s behavior. Regardless of her behavior, there was nothing about that scene that said “consensual” to me. The scene as played looked to me like a clear-cut case of rape. Granted, Janet’s reaction was not one of a rape victim, but that only made the situation more screwed-up as far as I’m concerned, as if to say, “See? She really wanted it.” Maybe she did, but that to me is an arrogant conceit by the writers that goes beyond all believability and I find to be in poor taste. Maybe I need to see the scene again, but I don’t think so.

As for Nicole’s point about all women falling for Tommy, I agree. It’s silly. Why is Jennifer Esposito, as a firefighter who saved Tommy, trying to dysfunctionally date him? It’s just goofy.

Give me more stories about Lou and the whole gang in the firehouse. Although I have to admit that I think Probie and Garrity are too stupid to live. Which is kind of funny, I guess.

bmoredlj
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 10:32 am (UTC -6)

“Best Show on TV(TM)” is thrown around a lot by critics and viewers alike, as a firm, absolute, factual statement that really expresses an OPINION.

You believe the show is far cry from the best, and in fact struggling to even be good. I happen to agree. Third Watch…I mean, Rescue Me has never piqued my interest…not even a little bit.

Battlestar and The Wire, two of my all-time favorite series, have also been given the title “Best Show on TV(TM)” by many critics, but that doesn’t make them so; not to everyone; not by a long shot. I just happen to believe they both deserve that title.

There’s no wrong or right, there’s just preference, and Rescue Me is obviously not abysmal enough to simply be cast off and rejected; it just doesn’t do it for me.

B. Stewart
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 5:11 pm (UTC -6)

You guys are right, I shouldnt say its the “Best show on TV” because that is just my opinion. I do seem to enjoy it more than anything else, and I also hold sci-fi in another category entirely (being that I dont judge sci-fi shows against dramas and so-forth). So while I’ve also said in the past that BSG is the best show on TV, I guess I would mean that within its genre. There really is no comparing a show like BSG with a show like Rescue Me or The Shield. I guess I just think Rescue Me does what it does better than any other show like it (Dramedies, for lack of a better term).

I will also agree with those of you who think the Tommy’s ladies stuff is a bit ridiculous. It is ridiculous. I could really do without this latest girl too. I like the Tommy/Janet and the Tommy/Shiela stuff because it makes sense. These other girls make no sense. So point taken.

As for this rape business, I will not budge. Janet’s whole reaction to the entire thing serves only to marginalize actual rape. If Janet were actually raped she would have either a) fought back / screamed, b) called the cops after, c) showed signs of trauma / pstd and the list goes on and on. But nope Janets life just goes on like normal. Now is this my defect for seeing it this way? Are the writers of the show just fucked up perverts? Or was it done intentionally to show that JANET IS INSANE? I’ll take the latter. Im certainly not defending or condoning something like that happening in real life, and having had people close to me in real life suffer this type of crime (more than once), people who spout this “she asked for it” nonsense really do piss me off. So when I go and defend this scene it is not without actually thinking about it and considering it in depth.

Anyways great show that Rescue Me 🙂

B. Stewart
Tuesday, July 10, 2007, 5:12 pm (UTC -6)

Hey by the way Jammer I think you should do reviews of “Farscape” that would make my life complete hahhaa 🙂

Mark
Wednesday, July 11, 2007, 10:52 am (UTC -6)

I have to disagree with you there, B. Stewart. I’ve never seen the show either, but I take exception to what you say Janet would do if she were raped. Maybe you’re talking about what that character would do, but it sounds like the list of options should apply to every woman who is raped.

Rapes of the type that has been described in this article certainly happen in real life. And women don’t always react in the (logical) ways that you list. Again, I haven’t seen the scene in question, but it seems as though Janet’s reaction might well happen in real life. That wouldn’t mean that what took place between her and Tommy was not rape. It was still rape.

Mark
Wednesday, July 11, 2007, 10:56 am (UTC -6)

(Hit reply too early.)

I have a good friend who suffered through this crime, and for a long time she didn’t show any signs of trauma or anything – she just suppressed all her feelings about that night and went on as usual, even continuing to see the perpetrator of that crime. It wasn’t until she finally broke up with him that she really let herself feel what happened on that night.

Again, I don’t know how this correlates to the situation on the show. But this woman certainly went right on with her life as if nothing had happened after she was raped.

It actually kind of disturbs me, writing this, because I feel like I’m defending the show. I’m not doing that – it sounds as if it portrayed rape in a very irresponsible way. I just want to say that it’s possible to react to the crime in a large variety of different ways.

B. Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2007, 3:16 pm (UTC -6)

All I was doing was defeding their right to write that episode/scene the way they wrote it. It fits with the characters and makes sense the way it happens based on the characters.

You guys said youve had friends who were raped, and like I said so have I. More than one. And yes I was the shoulder to cry on. So it sickens me more than most. If it were up to me, rapists would get a bullet in the head. But we are sitting here debating about the merits of one scene in a show with 50+ episodes. Get over it!

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