Entertainment Magazine

Review #2896: Rescue Me 7.1: “Mutha”

Posted on the 16 July 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Edmund B.

When “Rescue Me” burst on the scene seven years ago, it demolished a number of TV conventions. It upended the usual path from stand-up to television. Rather than building a sitcom around a comic’s persona, then surrounding them with an outstanding supporting cast, they took the same approach to a scabrous, scatological drama. Gone was the usual reverential depiction of first responders, especially in the wake of 9/11. Instead we got an over-the-top, yet somehow authentic, peek into how these men handle this job, and that tragedy, in all its raunchy, profane, and, yes, sometimes heroic, glory. Given that Dennis Leary was the star and creator, it really couldn’t have been any other way. Warm and cuddly family man is not what this man does, on stage or on screen.

Review #2896: Rescue Me 7.1: “Mutha”

Since then, the show has struggled to maintain that irreverent intensity. Especially in the last couple of seasons, it has lurched from plot point to plot point, often sacrificing consistency for shock value. My personal favorite was Tommy’s tumble off the wagon in the fifth season, after which he seduced the rest of the family back to the bar. Including cousin Mickey, who gave up the priesthood for sex, while channeling his religious fervor into AA…until then. This was not only not in character, but sapped that season of a great source of familial conflict. Now, facing the hard deadline of 9/11’s tenth anniversary, can the show use that definite end point to find its way again?

The answer is, probably. The first episode, titled “Mutha”, showed flashes of the old magic, hampered by the persistence of more recent problems. The opening finds Tommy in Sheila’s apartment, looking after the brain-damaged Damien. I found the decision to have Damien survive his accident last season problematic. His condition made Tommy’s continued presence in Sheila’s life understandable. Tommy is his godfather and feels guilty for encouraging Damien in the first place.

His wife Janet’s objections came off as shrewish, giving this central triangle unequal sides. Damien’s entry into Tommy’s ghostly pantheon was the sixth season cliffhanger, and appears headed for an immediate payoff, until Sheila’s untimely return. We are then treated to one of the show’s staples. The two-handed scene where Dennis Leary only has to react, while his more talented co-star, in this case, Callie Thorne at her spectacularly unhinged best, carries the day. Cue the Von Bondies for the opening credits.

The other pole of the triangle gets her due after the credits. Janet is consulting her doctor about the travails of pregnancy in her 40s, a pregnancy she has kept from Tommy. The inevitable confrontation follows in the parking lot. After a reminder of how much of the parenting burden Janet has had to shoulder, Dennis Leary, as both star and co-writer (with Evan Reilly), brings the show back to its central theme. “We’re way beyond god-damn normal……I’ve got news for you. There’s no getting over it. Normal is dead and buried under Ground Zero. I’m just trying to make sense of what’s left above ground.” Of course, this show loves to mix its drama and comedy, so this excellent exchange is leavened by another staple. A fight between Tommy and Janet that escalates to an uncomfortably inappropriate extreme, until they’re brought back to earth by a reproachful witness, this time, Janet’s doctor.

At this point, the show jumps forward five months. That’s right, five months, to a scene of Tommy with Sheila being very chummy with an obviously pregnant Janet. Gone are my hopes of a continuing discussion of whether it’s appropriate to bring a new child into this world, and, especially, this family. While it becomes obvious that Andrea Roth’s real-life pregnancy dictated this decision, it still feels like an opportunity lost, especially during this final appraisal of 9/11’s costs.

We then return to the firehouse. Remember the firehouse? This is a show about a firehouse. (Apologies to Arlo Guthrie.) The unbelievable conceit of no fires in thirteen days felt like an arbitrary budget-cutting ploy. I know the fire scenes are costly, but you could still show them heading off to, or returning from, a call, rather than straining credulity. After a pretty standard kitchen table discussion, Black Sean consults Franco, which introduces the episode’s other plot thread. He wants to propose to Colleen, Tommy’s daughter, and Franco supplies a surprisingly cogent justification for why he should. Franco’s evolution from the FDNY’s premier pussy-hound to a more mature self-understanding has been one of the highlights of the series.

Tommy’s subsequent scenes with Sheila and then Janet provide grist for potential conflict, as well as the definitive description of Tommy Gavin as “a raging hard-on with a fire helmet”. Did Sheila really sense Janet wanted to forego sex, despite past history? Or is she trying to sow discord? My money was on discord, but, instead, Tommy is tripped up by magically knowing that description. The ladies’ continued united front promises some welcome new twists to come.

We also learn that Colleen is still sober, but is now working at the bar. Which is now owned by cousin Mickey and uncle Teddy. Who are now running an employees-only AA meeting, having, apparently, learned nothing from the Gavin family AA meetings of season four. You know this is going to end well, and after Black Sean takes the plunge and proposes in the stock room, it certainly does. Despite her obvious delight, Colleen downs the shots on her tray and turns to the shelves for more.

It’s understandable, especially given her marital role models, that the pressure of this development would drive her back to the illusory comforts of the bottle. Tommy arrives to rescue her, and appears ready to join her in oblivion. His first taste invokes his unholy trinity of dead brethren: his cousin, his brother, his father. While it’s good to see those three wonderful actors, and get reminded of the crucial anniversary to come, their trite rationalizations fully justify Tommy’s spit take. His subsequent revenge on his living relatives is fitting, just, and darkly hilarious.

The fact that alcohol conjured Tommy’s usual ghosts led me to a realization about Damien. I believe he is the first ghost to appear while Tommy’s sober. The others are products of Tommy’s survivor’s guilt; Damien represents the guilt of complicity. If this means Tommy will finally be facing his own complicity and responsibility for the world around him, that augers well for this final run.

Despite excellent individual scenes, the pacing of the episode was disjointed. The jumps between the various elements of family, firehouse, and bar felt abrupt and not well connected. Some of the supporting cast, especially the firemen, got short shrift, for now anyway. However, this opener needed to lay the groundwork for Tommy’s final journey. With that foundation set, if they can smooth out some of the kinks, and deliver on the promised themes of responsibility and reclamation, Rescue Me just might finish with the same panache it started with.

Rating: 7/10

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog