Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Now, I'm going to continue to badmouth you from this other room here": Rescue Me

Spoilers, if you haven't seen this yet (although this review is so late, how haven't you?)

OK, first things first. If you haven't read Matt Zoller Seitz's dish-tastic interview with Jack McGee (Chief Reilly), do so now. Any way you read it, it's a great scoop by MZS, and it's a nice companion to what was yet another macabre twist at the end of the third episode of Rescue Me's fourth season. It also raises a point that I'm sure most Rescue Me watchers have considered at least once--that writer/producer/star Denis Leary may well be a totally egotistical prima donna jerk on set. Of course, maybe McGee's just ticked off that he got let go. That I can only speculate on--but the interview with Peter Tolan does confirm something about the Chief's suicide, and probably other similar twists before (Johnny's death, Connor's death), which is that Tolan and Leary basically cook them up out of nowhere, instead of creating more believable, organic character arcs.

Now, thinking back over previous seasons, there's minor justification for the Chief putting a gun in his mouth once he failed his physical and was told he could never be on active duty again. The justification being that one scene early in season one where the Chief breaks down to Tommy because his job was on the line. Still, I think Leary and Tolan felt they needed a new shocking event to propel their stories for the fourth season, they figured the Chief wasn't quite as funny or lovable as most of the firehouse staff, and that he hadn't had much to do since dealing with his wife's contraction of Alzheimer's in season two. So, he got the chop. In terms of shock value, it certainly was an effective sendoff, and they sure did wrap everything up very neatly for the Chief--he attends his son's commitment ceremony and makes a speech; he saves Tommy's ass during his one and only day as a desk jockey; and the crew gives him a bunch of golf clubs before he leaves the house. No hard feelings, right? Anyway, as twists go, it wasn't as slapdash as Johnny getting shot seemed; neither was it as plainly horrible as Connor getting hit by a drunk driver. If it leads to some legitimate, well-written drama, that's cool. But if it leads to a bunch of self-destructive, ridiculous wallowing, that ain't so cool.

What else happened this episode? All the other storylines were pretty serviceable. I quite liked the interaction between Mike and Tommy, especially their dinner table scene, where Tommy veers between sympathetic and unnerved at Mike's grief over his sick mother. In fact, the sick mother plot went well (although I again fear self-destructive ridiculous wallowing, this time on Mike's part, arising from it). Rather than actually having the probie pull a Million Dollar Baby, they had him think about doing it, but then his mother expires while he's sleeping at her bedside. A little hackneyed, but Lombardi underplayed the whole thing rather well, as opposed to his "what? me so dumb" act last episode at the news of his mother's deterioration.

The Tommy/probie dinner date ended with Tommy running into Jennifer Esposito (I forget the character's name), the fiery female firefighter who rescued Tommy and now wants, apparently, to sleep with him. Now, having her emasculate Tommy by first picking him up, then heading off some bullies for him, then kicking him out of her truck when he won't go the distance with her, is all very well and good. Sticks with the whole "Tommy's at a low ebb sexually" thing that's been running through the season so far. Still, a lot of critics have rightly asked, why the hell is Esposito so stuck on bedding Tommy anyway? Especially when he's such a drippy, evasive screwup? I'm guessing she has some attraction to huge losers that she'll explain later, but it is stretching the credulity of their burgeoning relationship before it's even begun.

Still, Esposito is automatically a better match for Tommy than his two mainstays. Sheila was mostly in the background this episode (in fact, I barely remember what she did) but the symmetry between her dating the guy who saved her and Tommy being pursued by the gal who saved him gives me the sneaking suspicion that she and Tommy are gonna hook up again this season (and this time not when Tommy's unconscious). Not that it really makes sense or we really want it to happen, but I just have an inkling. Tommy and Janet actually had one of their best scenes together in ages and ages, though, the one where she realizes berating him calms down the constantly crying baby. It was a cute little bit, but it still totally worked.

Think that's it for now. I'm still sticking by the show, even though I bet the Chief's death is gonna be poorly handled--I guess I just still see something here. The firehouse scenes especially, but even the bad stuff, once in a while the script will turn a nice phrase or a cast member will surprise me. Guess I'm just a sucker for punishment!


Todd VanDerWerff said...

Good piece. I was sure you would be more defensive about the suicide, but vague unease verging on support seems more like it.

It's not that I don't think the chief would kill himself. I think they could have built to that more effectively. It could be one of those great moments where we realize that everyone else sees happy Chief, but we, the viewers, get to see just how miserable he's becoming. I could see a good movie or novel or something ending with a guy we thought was happy blowing his brains out, but it feels like more of a cheat on an ensemble drama. Especially when it seems as though it was just cooked up to enhance drama.

But I did like the scene where Tommy and the Probie go out to dinner together. And I like the idea of Esposito's character and her portrayal of same. I just don't like that she's nuts for Tommy.

David Sims said...

Yep, I think I agree with you on that. The shock factor of it just seemed like a cop-out to make people go "whaaa"?

Agree with you on Esposito so far. Hopefully they can clarify her thing for Tommy in future episodes (hopefully!).