RESCUE ME created by Denis Leary and Peter Tolan, with Leary, Andrea Roth and Tatum O'Neal. Airs Tuesdays at 10 pm on Showcase. Rating: NNNN
Rescuing kitties from a burning building: only a ballsy, black-as-soot drama like Rescue Me could take such a cute and fuzzy cliché and turn it into a boundary-breaking double-entendre-filled rock video.
Sure, the cruelly comic series isn't as combustible as it was in season one. But then it had the freshness of an acid peel. Cops can be shown as tragically flawed, but the idea of portraying firefighters as anything less than heroic, especially post-9/11, is akin to blasphemy.
Then along came Rescue Me and ace firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary), an acid-tongued alcoholic asshole haunted by Jesus Christ (Tommy walked in on Him pulling nails out of His feet), and the re-animated corpses of those he failed to save, including his cousin, who died in the World Trade Center.
But while things may have cooled since that scorching opening salvo, there's still a lot of heat in the smoking embers.
As season four kicks off, Tommy is still an asshole, a role perfectly suited to Leary, the obnoxious gap-toothed comic who's built his stand-up on this kind of persona. (He even wrote a song about what an asshole he is.) "Food, fire and sex" is still Tommy's credo, but he's making an effort to clean up his act.
He's still got the suspicious beach-house fire from last season hanging over his head. Seems the insurance company wants to pin it on Tommy, who's having trouble remembering how it started.
But he's also got an estranged wife still grieving over the hit-and-run death of their son, a newborn child who might not be his (his late brother could be the real father) and a teenage daughter who's moved on from her born-again phase and her lesbian phase and seems to have inherited the Gavin clan's affinity for alcohol.
Oh, and Tommy's manic sister (the brilliantly biting Tatum O'Neal) is newly married to one of Tommy's ladder-mates and in a smart bit of gender reversal she's addicted to porn.
And that's not even touching on the insanity down at the firehouse involving ex-nuns with insatiable sex drives and mentally challenged cock-blocking brothers.
But no matter how bad Tommy feels about himself and make no mistake, he's a first-rate self-loathing bastard he's still a guy's guy. His fellow firefighters would follow him into any blaze, and the women in his life would follow him into any bed. Not that it makes him remotely admirable. Or even likeable.
And that's why Rescue Me still resonates. Because beyond the smart-ass (and occasionally existential) observations about post-9/11 heroism, it's a show about a flawed man who does a dangerous, thankless job and does it well even as his world crumbles around him.
What to watch this week
Friday, August 31
Summit Series (Sports) While the idea of reprising the famous 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series was initially met with skepticism, the junior-level showdown is a big hit with hockey-starved fans counting the days until the NHL pre-season. Although the eight-game series hardly rises to the Cold War fervour of the original East versus West clash, it's hard not to get excited about seeing a classic rivalry revived. The first four games will be played in Russia, and the final four here in Canada, with TSN and Sportsnet sharing broadcasting duties.
On Sportsnet: Game 3, Friday (August 31), 8 am; Game 7, Friday (September 7), 10 pm; Game 8, Sunday (September 9), 8 pm.
On TSN: Game 4, Saturday (September 1), 6 am; Game 5, Tuesday (September 4), 8 pm; Game 6, Wednesday (September 5), 8 pm.