'Rescue Me'? Rescue Us!
Once upon a time Rescue Me was the single finest dude’s hour on all of network television. A smartly scripted, infinitely witty, soap opera for men that was unashamed to probe the dark demons of adult male insecurity in an increasingly metro-sexual modern society. A last bastion of testosterone soaked mayhem offering a sanctuary in a medium dominated at the time by the likes of Desperate Housewives, Sex and The City, and an avalanche of female-marketed reality shows.
Now, some three years since it’s glorious prime, the series is a shadow of it’s former glory, verging continually on painful, unintended self-parody as it limps lifelessly through it’s lackluster final season – mercifully capped as it is at a meager nine episodes. Once the series had something vital to say about the impotent rage of the modern man, refracted as it was through a Manhatten firehouse held together through the bonds of brotherhood, it’s occupants now discarded as the political expediency of the September 11 attacks faded into memory. Now the series finds itself increasingly chasing it’s own tail, it’s meaning lost, it’s message abandoned.
The one constant has remained Leary, whose weathered features, fiery Irish persona, and great gift for extended, improvised rantings made the antics of Tommy Gavin – maverick firefighter, abusive husband/boyfriend, wayward father, and recovering alcoholic – such compulsive viewing. But that was then. These days the ravings just seem tired. Leary himself looking increasingly more so, his formerly free-flowing, venomous, spitfire dialogue now hollow and increasingly disjointed, as if even he cannot believe that the script requires him to come up with yet another seemingly irrational diatribe against whatever irks him this week.
Budgetary constraints have played a big part in the steady decline of the series, and the fellas who diligently crew 62 Truck never seem to fight any actual fires anymore. The decision to simultaneously increase the episode order for the fifth season to 22-episodes proved to be a major misstep, the storylines prolonged and diluted down to such a degree it became a real chore to tune in each week and maintain interest.
What has suffered most though is the glorious ensemble that orbits Leary, populating this world, and lending a genuine air of believability to what were, at one time, jaw-dropping, I-can’t-believe-they-went-there storylines. Lou, Franco, Mike, and even Sean once had lives of their own, each one unique, quirky, and interesting to dip in on. Now the budget seemingly dictates that shooting separate, interweaving arcs for each character is no longer cost effective (unless anyone buys that Peter Tolan actually believes having them all talk over each other around a large kitchen table week after week is the best way to utilize a talented ensemble?) leaving them to follow Tommy around en masse. Were it to rain at any point they might be mistaken for ducklings.
Even what legitimate story remains to be explored – such as Adam Ferrara’s young Chief highlighting the post 9/11 policy of promoting guys who might lack the requisite experience (and therefore fail to command the respect) due to sheer necessity of the FDNY finding themselves 343 guys light overnight – is willfully cast aside. Ferrera’s role lately reduced to simply commanding the children to take their seats each and every time yet another pissing contest gets out of hand.
In all Honesty, it’s perhaps unfair to single out Rescue Me in this way, hardly unique in the TV landscape for declining horrifically before finally bowing out at least three seasons too late (anyone watched Entourage lately?) But such were the dizzying heights of the first four seasons, and so steep the drop off subsequently, that the frustration here is perhaps so understandably prevalent amongst fans of well-written drama. It’s edge dulled, it’s darkly laced maturity reduced to childish tomfoolery, I for one welcome the decision to close the doors to the house of 62 Truck, just in the nick of time before those responsible for the shambolic mess it has so sadly become managed to burn it down entirely.