Image A Sound A Extras C
"Voicemail," "Harmony," "Balls," "Twat," "Sensitivity," "Reunion," "Shame," "Believe," "Rebirth," "Brains," "Bitch," "Happy," "Justice"
by Walter Chaw If we proceed from the premise that the first season of FX's firefighter series "Rescue Me" is an overt metaphor for the reconfiguration of society post-9/11 along tribal/machismo lines, the second season sees the rules established, leaving only the playing-out of über-civilization's system of justice. It's post-apocalyptic in the same manner as Walter Hill's The Warriors: a diary of urban demolition and the erosion of decorum; the crude, reductive barbarism of its survivors is worn as a badge of honour. They're martyrs in uniform flying the banner of the underpaid and overworked--credit the series for acknowledging their position on the cross a time or two through the firefighter's natural archenemy, the bulls. The world as we knew it ended one day, and from its ashes rose cowboys, cowboy crusades, and a "bring it on" attitude towards loss of life and the dealing of death. If the show gets progressively more unpleasant and hard to justify, it also charts the same arc in our culture and society. And it makes perfect sense in this way (if in no other) that Season Two's cliffhanger revolves around the senseless death of a child enlisted in a war not of his making and certainly beyond his comprehension.
Consider, too, emasculation as a key component of this "man show," whether in the form of a grizzled lieutenant's wife succumbing to dementia; a player getting addicted to painkillers before tying his ball(s) to the chain of a female co-worker; two lonely, ugly old men learning that something really was too good to be true at the hands of women who aren't what they seem to be in any case; a studly young firefighter being dumped by his fat girlfriend and stalking her in his mortification; or the hero (Tommy (Denis Leary)) losing first a child to miscarriage, then his anger to medication (the pussy even writes a poem! an unforgivably good one!), then another child to a drunk driver while his back is turned. "Rescue Me" is a neo-noir of fallen heroes and femme fatales, of sexual inadequacy and civilization in decline. Through it all, through walls of flame and horribly-injured little black kids offered up as proof of the animal logic of life and sacrifice, the series undergoes periodic and brutal crucibles of faith, unafraid to tackle issues of child molestation amongst the priesthood and whatever happened to Tatum O'Neill. Speaking of which, because it is what it is, women are without exception presented as screaming, castrating, calculating, hysterical bitch goddesses given to using their wiles (even the Alzheimer's case is caught in bed with a stranger, thus humiliating her husband) to lure men astray. Stupidity is a virtue--and when it's lacking, drunkenness and narcotics will suffice. Moreover, any cry for help from its duelling alphas is derided and undermined.
Tommy takes designer Prozac, which, of course, he gets from his wife (and colleague Franco (Daniel Sunjata) gets his painkillers from a hot nurse he's banging), and the key side effect of his mood levelling not listed on the label is, alack, sensitivity. There are jokes galore about cute straight guys caught in gay situations, while a subplot with a gay son turns too often to the maudlin. And when Tommy spends time in the gulag of a different firehouse, it's clear that according to the cosmology of "Rescue Me", every other fireman in the greater New York area is a barbershop quartet-singing ponce or actually, literally retarded. It's not realism, it's an allegory for a period in our history indicated by distrust, shell shock, and nihilism. The show's philosophy of existence is ferociously militant (as is ours, alas), and it's so consistently well-written and superbly-performed that, unlike our current administration's embarrassing forays into the public eye, it's easy to be seduced by its worldview. "Rescue Me" is the very definition of a guilty pleasure: a quality program that's unfailingly offensive (but saved more often than not by its wit), as well as a grossly unflattering portrait of men pushed to crisis by desperation, unimaginable losses, and constant mortification. It's "Huff" with balls. Long after this epoch of ours is just a remote, if indelible, stain on our collective history, we'll have programs like this to remind us of how low we go (as low as a male soap opera, for instance) when we sacrifice our most cherished values and pretenses towards civilization to defend them.
Sony ushers "Rescue Me: The Complete Second Season" to DVD on four platters housed in two thinpaks that slide into a cardboard sleeve. The 1.78:1 anamorphic video transfers crackle and pop while the DD 5.1 audio rivals that of many mainstream productions. (The atmospherics during the fire sequences that spring up now and again are especially full-bodied and impressive.) Disc 1 sports ten deleted scenes (totalling 8 mins.) consisting of more puerile fraternity set-pieces and gags, including the duct-tape fate of a guy caught breaking into a truck; an inappropriate story told during a dinner; and a couple of angry demonstrations involving snack foods. A teaser for Season Three (1 min.) contains no actual footage from upcoming episodes; trailers for Underworld: Evolution, "The King of Queens", and Sony's "TV Action Favorites" round out the first helping of bonus material.
Disc 2 starts with a featurette, "The Second Season" (9 mins.), that finds "Rescue Me"'s co-creator/producers Peter Nolan and Denis Leary doing the usual shuck-and-jive with cast and crew, going on at length about how the series distinguished itself in the second season. It's a piece that doesn't even register on the scale of revelation. "Shooting in New York" (10 mins.) is more of the same, with a little 9/11/Ground Zero reminiscence spicing the usual unexciting revelations of how much realism it brings to the production to shoot on location in the Big Apple. A 7-minute "Gag Reel" is a lot of Leary cutting up, which isn't really a bad thing as Leary is a funny guy. A shame there's so much excitement over getting to say "fuck"--but then again, it's not surprising considering that all of "Rescue Me" is sort of an arrested male's fantasy of how the world should work. More "Deleted Scenes" (4 mins.) are noteworthy for a frankly hilarious dialogue between Lenny Clarke and Charles Durning using every racist epithet for an Asian person possible ("I thought she was a chink, but she was just really depressed").
Launching Disc 3's supplements, "The Kitchen" (5 mins.) is a weird little segment focusing on the importance of the kitchen as the centre of activity in a typical firehouse. "Waiting for the Cast" (9 mins.) is a funnier gag reel than the actual gag reel, sort of, as Tolan and Leary riff on how many ways there are to kill characters as a threat to actors missing cues and flubbing lines. I did like actor Dean Winter (who plays Tommy's cop brother) referring to Leary as "Uncle Remus" for his storytelling ability. "Deleted Scenes" (10 mins.) are more of the same; truth is that most of these elisions are interchangeable with those that made it to air, though because there's a God in heaven, a dialogue about how Hilary Swank could more than likely kick the ever living shit out of ex-hubby Chad Lowe did make the final cut. "Diane Farr Talks to the Real NYPD" (22 mins.) is exactly what it sounds like and roughly as interesting as watching paint dry. Seems some fireman like the show and others don't. "Real Life on the Set of 'Rescue Me'" (9 mins.) is scored with a constant faux-metal guitar riff meant to indicate forward momentum and begins as a reverie on how much Denis Leary likes his toilet stalls to have enough leg room to be comfortable. "Deleted Scenes" (24 mins.) are nothing to write home about or, indeed, to write anything about: boy jokes, gay jokes, hitting on girls, and accessing emotions through failed bondings with father/son figures. Originally published: April 25, 2006.