Wednesday, July 8, 2009

'Rescue Me:' Having a Great Fifth Season

I've been extremely impressed with the fifth season of Denis Leary's gritty firefighter drama Rescue Me on FX. It's had more than its share of insanely dark moments, from Tommy Gavin (Leary) announcing to an AA meeting that not only had he resumed drinking but that he was enjoying it, to Tommy seeking to prove that he wasn't dead inside, that he still had tears left to shed, because he could feel his thigh being scorched by a blow torch. There's been Sean Garrity's (Steve Pasquale) kidney cancer, which was thought to have been caused by the rescue work he did at Ground Zero in the days after 9/11.

But there have also been ample moments of humorous awkwardness:

-- The unorthodox back "treatment" at the chiropractic offices.

-- The we're-so-happy-and-a-walking-Talbots-ad charade Tommy and Janet Gavin (Andrea Roth) put on when they visited Katy's super-snooty boarding school, including Janet's kick-ass verbal take-down of the insufferable snobby parents.

-- Michael J. Fox's turn as Janet's psycho, violent boyfriend Dwight who gave new meaning to the word "ball-buster."

-- The sheer illogic behind the Janet-Tommy-Sheila (Callie Thorne) sex-with-no-strings troika that's bound to blow up at any moment. Seriously, not a single one of them is completely sane. I predict major ugliness by the end of the season.

-- Shawn (Larenz Tate) has been trying to woo Colleen Gavin (Natalie Distler), despite her, shall we say, daunting amount of sexual experience which initially turned him off. (Do you seriously want to know what was up with the peanut butter?)

-- Can't forget Garrity's drug-induced song-and-dance fantasies, where he donned a top hat and tails and belted out show tunes, as he lay in a hospital bed after his cancer surgery.

However it was the return to 9/11 as the source of many of Tommy's issues which have grounded this drama, returned it to its raison d'etre. The presence of a French journalist in the firehouse, pressing people about their recollections of that day and inquiring about its lasting impact, stirred the pot. The sexy French journalist, over whom Tommy and Lou fought, handed Tommy a DVD with some 9/11 footage to review. While watching it, Tommy realized that his cousin died when the second tower collapsed, not the first, because he saw Jimmy, alive in the footage. Later, as he and the writer were sitting in a restaurant overlooking Ground Zero and discussing the loss of his cousin that day, Tommy ordered and drank a scotch, poignantly leaving his one-year sobriety chip inside the glass.

In that moment, Tommy decided to resume his drinking ways. His lunatic Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke) only made matters worse when he told Tommy that the best way to come to terms with Tommy's father's death was to watch a DVD (again with the DVD) of family home movies with a big scotch and have a good cry. However when Tommy couldn't cry, he worried that he'd become devoid of feeling in the wake of 9/11 and the deaths of his son, his brother and his father, hence his drunken application of a blow torch's flame to his bare thigh, so he could feel something, literally and emotionally.

After the "Torch" episode, the most disturbing of the Rescue Me installments this season, the show didn't flail around in hopelessness. The very next episode was largely devoted to the guys from the firehouse breaking the rules in order to give kids battling cancer some joy by bringing fire trucks to the hospital where Garrity was recovering from cancer surgery. When a kid with absentee parents took off with the rig and Tommy chased it down in the department SUV with a "cancer kid" named Timmy riding shotgun, there was an essence of gallows humor when Timmy, who said he knew he was going to die from cancer, told Tommy that after that thrilling car chase, he could now die, satisfied.

What have you thought about Rescue Me's fifth season? How does it compare to previous seasons?

Image credit: FX.

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