Set in a New York firehouse post 9/11 Rescue Me centres on Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary). Though best known as a comedian Leary rose to fame on MTV in the 90s and later through stand up and films. While his No Cure For Cancer tour proved he was one of the most important comedians of his time, Rescue Me proves that along with this he is also one of the greatest actors too.
In the aftermath of the attacks on the twin towers, the city comes to terms with life after the dust has settled. Gavin deals with losing his cousin and workmates as well as being in a job where he is now treated as a hero. Added to this his wife has left him taking his three children due to his recently developed alcoholism. He deals with this by buying the house opposite theirs so he can spy on her.
In between spying on his ex and fighting fires Gavin drinks. A lot. As an Irish American this is how he, as well as his father and uncle before him deal with their problems. When intoxicated he sees the ghost of his dead cousin who chastises him for what he has become and asks him to look after his widow and son. These exchanges are difficult to watch at times as we see Gavin at his absolute lowest. His relationships with the rest of his family become more prevalent in later series as we meet his sister (Tayum O’Neal) and brother (Dean Winters) as an NYPD officer.
Though rooted in particularly dark subject matter Rescue Me is also one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in years. The locker room banter of the firehouse crew is some of the wittiest dialogue you will ever hear. Add to this two of TV’s dumbest ever characters in Sean Garrity and proby Mike Silletti and you’ve got comedy gold. When filling in an application form Silletti calls his mother to see how old he is, he ends the conversation with, ‘lucky I called.’
The rest of the crew include an over weight Leiutenant, stereotypically angry captain with a gambling problem and Franco who uses his looks and hero status to sleep with as many women as possible. Toward the end of the first series a female fire fighter is introduced to the house and is shunned to begin with until she earns their respect. The way the show deals with her is the way, I would expect most fire fighters would feel but would be afraid to say out loud. Rescue Me however, is not afraid to make it’s opinions known and certainly isn’t afraid to make fun of any group from gays to Muslims.
It is this earnestness that sets the show apart from any thing else set in New York at the moment. The guys bust each other’s balls in between jobs which vary from cats stuck in trees to apartment fires full of kids. The tone switches instantly as they go from laughing at each other to the well oiled fire fighting machine they are trained to be. Gavin turns from an alcoholic, deadbeat dad to a fearless fireman talked about all over the city. When they enter a smoke filled building the claustrophobia kicks in and the audience experience reduced visibility and hear muted radio conversations over the roaring flames. For a TV show the set pieces look amazing. Entire buildings are engulfed in flames, falling apart from the inside and look every bit as realistic as any film with a Hollywood budget.
I don’t know why, but I have never heard anyone speak about this show. Anyone. Ever. Though if you are a fan please prove me wrong. I don’t know if it’s because it’s never had a terrestrial airing or because of the difficult subject matter it deals with, but I feel sorry for everyone who has never seen or even heard of it. It is one of the best written, heartfelt yet hilarious shows to come out of such tragedy.
The final series begins next year with the finale expected to air on September 11th to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the attacks. So you’ve got less than a year to catch up on six series before the climax that is sure to be one of the greatest episodes of television ever.