|Rescue Me: Season One (2004)
Starring: Denis Leary, Mike Lombardi, James McCaffrey, Jack McGee, Steven Pasquale, Andrea Roth, John Scurti, Daniel Sunjata
Basic cable channel FX may seem like a helpless puppy in comparison to big shot stations like HBO, Showtime, or any one of the top four networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX), but it’s the only channel to have consistently pumped out quality programming every single year since it first joined the party in 2001 with its first original series, “The Shield.” Since then, FX has received an abundance of critical praise and awards for its amazing work with “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck,” so its no surprise that their latest series “Rescue Me” has quickly rushed to the front of the line as the best new show of 2004, surpassing over-publicized hits like “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” with a brilliant mix of drama and comedy, thanks mostly in part to the show’s talented cast and sharp writing by star Denis Leary and co-producer Peter Tolan.
“Rescue Me” comes from the same team that created the highly underrated ABC flop, “The Job,” and just like the latter, “Rescue Me” is more about the lives and relationships of its main characters than the actual work of the men. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of scorching, action-packed firefighting scenes throughout the season, but they usually aren’t the paramount of the episode. Leary stars as Tommy Gavin, a veteran NYC firefighter whose life as taken a complete turn for the worse after the events of 9/11. Along with the subsequent separation from his wife (Andrea Roth), who he keeps a guarded eye on from his second house directly across the street, Tommy also suffers casual visitations from ghosts of men and women he has witnessed die in fires. Most notable are his daily conversations with his dead cousin Jimmy Keefe (James McCaffrey), a former firefighter who acts as Tommy’s guardian angel of sorts.
The rest of the guys on Ladder 62 consists of: Chief Jerry Reilly (Jack McGee), an irritable gambling addict who bets on anything from sports to relationships; Lieutenant Kenny Shea (John Scurti), the heart of the firehouse who’s turned to poetry to cope with his emotions; Franco Rivera (Daniel Sunjata), an arrogant ladies man; Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale), Franco’s dim-witted wingman; and Mike Silletti (Mike Lombardi), the newest addition to the firehouse who is subject to random pranks as a part of his initiation. Throughout the first season, the men of Ladder 62 are challenged with more than just their respective character flaws, including the death of a fellow firefighter, his female replacement, and more than a few crazy citizens, particularly Andrew, the I’m-not-gay ark welder whom Silletti saves and is then stalked by for the second half of the season.
It’s the writing for the series that makes “Rescue Me” initially stand out as one of the few good shows still on television, and the buddy-buddy cast of firefighters do an amazing job with the material. The weekly scripts incorporate a perfect mix of human emotion and frat house comedy, and Leary does a stand-out job on both sides of the acting spectrum. By far the least appealing portions of the series are Tommy’s day-to-day disputes with his wife, and the sheer flamboyance created by the character of Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke). While the husband-wife confrontations start out as mandatory character development, they quickly become monotonous, and worth trading in for more scenes at the firehouse. Likewise, Tommy’s relationship with Uncle Teddy only creates opportunities for sheer money business, which is tolerable until a black midget is thrown into the mix.
The DVD release for the first season of “Rescue Me” is up to par in a three-disc box set that presents all thirteen episodes in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and complemented by a Dolby Surround audio track. The first eight episodes are evenly distributed across the first two discs, with the final five appearing on disc three. Also featured throughout the box set are a number of special features that aren’t necessarily the cream of the crop, but dutifully enhance the collector’s overall experience. The two audio commentaries recorded for the pilot episode (disc one) and the season finale (disc three) are actually the worst of the bonus material, and while both Leary and Tolan offer up plenty of decent detail on the production of the series, it still leaves much to be desired; much more entertaining on disc one is the seven-minute gag reel, and four production featurettes focusing on the origin, authenticity, cast, and environment for the series. You can also find deleted scenes on disc two, but none are very exciting, while two short sneak peeks at season two round the special features section on the first disc.
”Rescue Me” is the kind of series that takes a tragic event such as 9/11 and capitalizes on its importance in our society. While the series can easily be applauded for its keen comedic timing between the firehouse comrades, it’s a drama at heart. Perhaps the show succeeds at such a high level because Leary pours his love for the firefighter community into each and every script. If you already knew about Leary’s Firefighters’ Foundation (which was first established in dedication to the death of the comic’s firefighter cousin), then you can certainly understand why “Rescue Me” looks and feels so authentic. The series perfects nearly every fine detail in the firefighter world (right down to the casting of real-life firefighters for smaller roles), so it’s really no surprise that the DVD box set of the first season preserves this very excellence, and only further proves that “Rescue Me” is yet another brilliant FX gem.