Monday, September 17, 2007

"You're happy I slept with Lucille Ball?": belated Rescue Me thoughts

Just managed to watch the finale of Rescue Me, and I was slightly nonplussed, but not completely disappointed. It's certainly been a weird, weird season. A lot of what seemed like what could be central season-long arcs (the Chief's suicide, the no-name baby, Sheila's insurance scam, Black Sean) fizzled into the background (or, in the case of the Chief's suicide, non-existence). It always seemed like we were missing out on what really makes the show great--the firehouse stuff--as we had to suffer through boring relationship plots like Franco and his bland fiancee, or Sean and Maggie's non-existent marriage (seriously, splitting them up for the whole season was a real disaster move), or Lou and his loser cousin, or Mike disappearing for whole episodes at a time. Rescue Me has always taken a look at the other firefighters' love lives, but the stuff they cooked up for them this season was, for the most part, very lackluster. Worst of all was Tommy living with Janet and her baby at the beginning of the season, an incredibly toxic situation that seemed like it might bring the whole series down with it. Thankfully, Tommy eventually cleared out, but the writers' insistence on never letting that relationship go means it never fully went away, and it negatively affected Tommy's material as it always does.

On the other hand, every episode there would be the odd moment that reminded you how good this show could be. There were some fantastic fire set-pieces, including a dazzling, dream-like wall of fire in the opener, an extended take through a labyrinth office building and the disturbing 'baby fire'. A couple new characters were successfully added--Jerry Adler's curmudgeonly replacement Chief and Larenz Tate as Black Sean (who, after a lot of build-up, didn't do much but seemed to fit in OK). And after a weird start with too much Uncle Teddy, the Gavin family stuff was scaled back to a nicely appropriate, amusing amount. Best of all was Tommy's stuff--as long as you ignore the women. While his struggle with alcoholism wasn't nearly as super-dramatic as it has been, that was what made it good. Interludes like his fear of heights, his monologue to Mike on a rooftop, or his stuff with Priest-Cousin were always worthwhile. Yeah, his later decision to start fighting fires invisibly in a Jimmy Keefe jacket was a little more random, but still, I mostly liked what they did with Tommy this season--a general mellowing, with him concentrating more on questions of faith and family than coming up with weird schemes and going on huge dream-soaked binges. Still, none of the women Tommy dealt with this season managed to click at all, from Jennifer Esposito (total non-starter), to Amy Sedaris (waste of a great opportunity) to Gina Gershon (a total "what the hell?" storyline), to the never-departed Janet.

I'll briefly talk about the finale itself. Whereas season one and two had these ridiculously over-the-top things where lots of horrible things happen and there's a big cliffhanger, now Leary and Tolan have calmed down somewhat (although season three still couldn't resist a stupid cliffhanger). I've read complaints of this finale being a bit of a damp fart, but I kinda liked it, especially the stuff with Tommy and his dad. To me at least, it was obvious Durning was going to go from about midway through the season, given the long, retrospective monologues he was constantly giving. They had him go in a really nice way though, watching the Brooklyn Cyclones with his son as they indulged in non-committal small talk, subtitled as meaningful father/son dialogue (a gag they used to use a lot in the first season, but eventually phased out--nice to see it called back here). Lou's little monologue to Sean about baseball's relation to life was also a good touch, if a little out of nowhere. Still, I like the kind of nostalgic, musing feel this show sometimes affects, much more than some of its wilder moods, so I thought going out on a wistful note like that was good.

The rest of the episode (and the one before) didn't have much going on. There were some minor plot things, like Black Sean starting to date Colleen (that'll go well), both Sheila and Jerry Adler finding out about Tommy's Keefe escapades (leading to a hysterical monologue and a lot of crying from Sheila, and a Section 8 form from Jerry), and an official ending to Sean and Maggie's marriage. Sort of. But really, there wasn't the plot-thick madness we usually get. Instead of Lou being conned out of a ton of money, he sat at the bar and laughed with his cousin. Instead of Franco almost dying in a fire, he settled things with his ex-fiancee. Instead of Uncle Teddy shooting a drunk driver who killed his nephew, he bought beer for everyone at the Cyclones game. And so on, and so forth. So I'm not really gonna complain. I think this season may have finally done in Rescue Me's critical support base, but I'm still always gonna watch the show. See you next summer.

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