Comedy Central’s Back From Hell: Tribute to Sam Kinison may be the most honest example of its kind – which makes sense, since Kinison was probably the most honest stand-up comic there’s ever been. How honest is this tribute? Lenny Clarke, on remembering when he heard the news that Kinison was dead, ‘My first thought was, did you see the body?’
The short answer to the question of Rescue Me’s [FX, Tuesdays, 10/9C] lead character’s chances of redemption following a near-death experience would be: none! This is Tommy Gavin [Denis Leary] we’re talking about – the firefighter who’s been in a downward spiral ever since 9/11. With only occasional breaks – enough to get to know that he’s a decent guy at heart [though it’s buried really, really deeply] – Tommy has continued to sink lower each season until, at the end of last season, his own Uncle Teddy shot him twice and left him on the floor of the crew’s bar to die.
Rescue Me [FX, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.] chronicles the gradual self-destruction of New York firefighter Tommy Gavin [Denis Leary] ever since his cousin Jimmy [James McCaffery]died in action helping to evacuate the Twin Towers. As season five opens, Tommy has been sober for a year, an achievement that his cousin, Father Mickey [Robert John Burke], says warrants becoming a sponsor to newbie Derek [Anthony Perullo]. This comes on the heels of an announcement that a French journalist wants to interview the crew about how 9/11 affected them. And that’s barely scratching the surface of this season’s journey.
I could go into the way certain relationships undergo stress; or talk about the bar that Mike [Michael Lombardi] buys [and his adventures in attempting to decorate it]; or reveal the identity of the crew member who gets a devastating illness that relates back to 9/11. I could delve more deeply into the effect Genevieve Lazard [Karina Lombard], the French journalist, has on the crew – for good and/or ill.
Instead, I’ll simply say that Season Five of Rescue Me goes to places that it has never gone before – at least not in this kind of depth. In dealing with all the abovementioned arcs [and several more], the series is not just examining one man’s self-destruction [and, yes, even sober, Tommy is self-destructive], but digging deeper into one of the most salient questions that can be asked of anyone whose job puts them in harm’s way on a regular basis: just how crazy do you have to be to run into building that’s on fire? And how does affect your fellow crew members, your family?
Because the show is written [and I use the term loosely, here – no part of the show is immune to improvisation within a fixed basic plot] by so few people [Denis Leary, Peter Tolan, Mike Martineau and Evan Reilly], there is a unity of vision – and it’s execution – that is unique. They are no afraid to, for example, incorporate Daniel Sunjata’s beliefs that 9/11 was part of a government conspiracy into their ongoing story and really examining how that kind of thing would affect not only 62 Truck, but the entire fire department [not to mention civilians who see it on the internet, or TV].
While all of these things are going on, though, Tommy’s family is going through more changes. Janet [Andrea Roth] has a new boyfriend – a paraplegic named Dwight [Michael J. Fox]; his eldest daughter, Colleen [Natalie Distler] is dating someone from the house, and his younger daughter, Katie [Olivia Crocicchia], is in boarding school [and wants her parents to lie about who they are]. Then there’s Tommy’s attempts to cope with his father’s death…
Somehow, not only does the creative team keep all these arcs – and several more – in the air, they give each the amount of time it takes to do them justice. Since this season has a full twenty-two episode order, that’s crucial.
FX made the first nine episodes available for review purposes and there’s not a dud in the lot. In those first nine eps, nearly every cast member, regular and recurring, has sufficient quality time that they could all be considered Emmy nomination-worthy. Season Five of Rescue Me is a rarity – it’s even better than Season One. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself.
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