Firefighter dramedy Rescue Me (FX, Tuesdays, 10pm), without doubt the finest soap opera for men on the tube, is the perfect vehicle for Denis Leary. It allows him to showcase his magnificent acting talent as well as his skill as a comedian and writer, along with his partner, Peter Tolan. It also allows Leary to vent his frustrations at a political elite that abandoned these men and discarded them as soon as they were no longer a politically expedient photo opportunity. Leary is not a happy bunny, and wasted no opportunity to throw this disgrace in everybody's face. Transferring his trademark stage persona into a weekly network television show, Leary tackles a serious subject that is very dear to his heart. A long time supporter of the work Firemen do, Leary established The Leary Firefighters Foundation after his cousin and five others were killed in a warehouse fire in 1999. Since then the foundation has helped to raise over $10 million to provide equipment and training facilities to help these brave men and women.

Best known to most for his gloriously over-the-top stand up, which is built around angry rants about the life of the typical American male, and labeled unfairly by others as a poor man's Bill Hicks, Denis Leary is the perfect antithesis for our age of political correctness gone mad. Leary is an angry man, whose Irish American upbringing has gifted him great insight into what makes men tick. Rescue me is an absolute wonder; a last bastion of male-centric sanctuary in a television universe dominated by Desperate Housewives, female-marketed reality shows, and a zillion 'fat guy married to hot chick who catches him in a lie every single week' domestic sitcoms.

Leary plays Tommy Gavin, firefighter in Manhattan's 62 truck crew. Fearless and fiercely loyal, he is also a recovering alcoholic and a tormenting estranged husband and father of three children. Unable to cope after his cousin and best friend was killed on 9/11, Tommy stumbles through his life, clinging by his fingernails to what he has left, haunted by visitations from his dead cousin and numerous others he was unable to save.

Leary and this terrific cast have the male psyche mapped out backwards and forwards and not a moment goes by when you don't cringe with knowing embarrassment watching their antics and realizing that they know every dirty little secret we have. Over the course of four wincingly funny seasons they cover every piece of ground there is, encompassing everything from homophobia, to women in the workplace, alcoholism and spousal abuse, to sexual politics and growing old.

Entering this fifth season after an enforced year-long hiatus courtesy of that damn writer’s strike, Tommy is facing potential expulsion from the FDNY on section eight grounds. Meanwhile Sheila is on some extended therapy kick while Janet could potentially have a new fella. Mike, Franco and Garrity are planning to use Mike’s inheritance to open their own bar, which will likely devolve into a total disaster because, let’s face it, it’s Mike, Franco and Garrity. Most tantilizing of all is Black Shawn’s secret relationship with Colleen, of which he is contemplating coming clean to Tommy about. How did that work out for the Fake Baby Head guy again?

The show mixes the trademark Leary angst and frustration at life to storming comedic effect, giving us a world of lovable, affable, amazingly brave, but deeply flawed men, who are so fearless in the shit yet so broken and emotionally stunted that it pains to watch. Leary knows how to turn the emotional thumbscrews and if you are looking for a fluffy show where everything turns out okay, you’re in the wrong place. The drama here is harrowing and the stakes always high. But Rescue Me punctuates the raw nature of the drama with sequences of unrelenting hilarity where, despite literally not knowing whether to laugh or cry, you are always profoundly moved.

The later seasons of Rescue Me, this one already confirmed at a lengthy 22 episodes, might lack the blistering slickness and pace of the first two seasons, but in its darker turn there is a wealth of good drama here. This show is as mature as anything out there and it has a really knowing and genuine edge to it. The cast remain superb and the material is consistently strong. Unlike some ensemble shows where characters tend to get lost on the way, Leary and Peter Tolan are careful to spread the screen time around very democratically, making sure the misery and comedy is equally distributed, resulting in some of the most well rounded and compelling characters on television today.

Starring: Dennis Leary, Mike Lombardi, Steven Pasquale, Andrea Roth, Daniel Sunjata, John Scurti, Callie Thorne, Tatum O’Neal, Lenny Clarke,

Creator: Dennis Leary & Peter Tolan

Network: FX


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