Saturday, August 27, 2011

Recue Me: The Final Season

As we prepare for the tenth anniversary of the most important and defining day of our generation, the television show brave enough to embrace the topic is winding down its seventh and final season.  Rescue Me has been a show about a hard living man and how his world crumbled, as did many others, on 9/11/2001. 

Denis Leary plays Tommy Gavin, the tormented New York fireman who lost his cousin and best friend in the twin towers.  He is tortured because he survived.  The seven seasons chronicle his life of tragedy and self examination in the aftermath of 9/11.   Gavin is an alcoholic and womanizer and he heads toward self destruction at full throttle.  On occasion, Gavin tries to get his life back on course but can never overcome his own flaws and weaknesses for very long. 

It probably seems like a thin plot for seven seasons but Rescue Me has never become stale or stagnant.  Gavin’s antics are sad but Leary delivers them with relish.  Never I have I watched a program so poignant yet humorous, not only from week to week, but from scene to scene.  The show can bring tears to your eyes from laughter and again moments later from shocking tragedies.  Gavin’s life has careened out of control for seven seasons but never in the same direction for very long. 

I have read criticism about the boyish, often childish, and crude antics of Gavin and his firehouse chums.  Their language and shenanigans are often childish and crude but they are more realistic than some people may realize.  I have participated or observed similar scenes in real life, minus the firehouse backdrop, many times.  Guys bust the chops of other guys.  I have always thought this was one of the most realistic parts of this show and the criticism was ill deserved.  It didn’t matter what hijinks the boys came up with, they were always ready when the alarms went off. 

I think this is one of the keys to Rescue Me.  Whenever that alarm went off, no matter what was going on in their lives, these guys answered the bell.  It is what they do.  Personal feuds and private issues are always set to the side when lives were on the line.  This common thread is the ultimate tribute to those 300 plus fireman who died nearly 10 years ago.  Creators Leary and Peter Tolan respect the job these men do and it clearly shows.  Gavin especially is a courageous, if not rash, firefighter, who takes his job very seriously.

The cast has always been brilliant but they are too many to mention here by name.  Some standouts include Leary in the lead role and Andrea Roth as Gavin’s far from perfect wife.  The terrific Callie Thorne is Gavin’s cousin’s widow and crazy, periodic lover.  Tatum O’Neal is recurring as Gavin’s abrasive, abusive, alcoholic sister.  The firehouse is filled with crazy but real, characters that drive the humorous side of this program, and the actors really embrace their roles.  The writing has always been outstanding.  They always stay true to the characters, realistically flawed, one and all.  The plotlines are often heart shattering and they have relied heavily on the prevalent alcoholism among several of the characters.  Some may feel this has been a worn out storyline but it is a huge part of what these characters are and they don’t ever stop being alcoholics, no matter their efforts or intentions.

Two guest stars have really stood out to me.  Michael J. Fox and Maura Tierney both deserve kudos for their stellar efforts on Rescue Me.  Tierney especially touched a chord playing a woman battling cancer and the travails that entails, mirroring her real life.

One of the things I love about this program has always been the long and patient scenes.  Often, these scenes are several minutes long, going from commercial break to commercial break without a hitch.  They are great for character and story development and they often move the show along at a pace more suitable for an action show rather than a drama.  I have never seen this done on the level as Rescue Me and it one of the things that make this show great.

The final season has been building but to what I do not know.  I doubt very much it will be a happy ending for many of the characters as that is not how they have lived their lives over the past 10 years.  The anniversary has played a major role in the first episodes of this final season and I can’t imagine there isn’t more to come on that topic.  Gavin has been trying to conquer his demons once more as his wife is pregnant and now friends with his former lover.  There have been some great scenes of Gavin lost and clueless trying to navigate around his wife, two grown up daughters, and his former lover all in the same room. 

I am going to miss these characters as this is one of my all time favorites.  From the acting, to the writing, to the directing Rescue Me has been great from the beginning.  The last season hasn’t disappointed and while I anxiously await for whatever surprises (and tragedies) yet to be revealed, it is bitter sweet because these will be the last surprises.  I’m always sad when programs I have loved for years wind down and this is no different.  I hate to see Rescue Me end but I’m glad FX was brave enough to air it in the first place.

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