TELEVISION: Rescue Me: A Coffee Table on 9/11 Re-Opens Old Wounds In The 5th Season!

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.

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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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