‘Rescue Me’ really isn’t that good
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.