Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Finishing Up The Season: Rescue Me

When the fifth season of this show began in April, I hadn’t yet had the chance to catch up on my blog after taking a semester off during my time abroad. It’s especially unfortunate because every episode of this season sparkled with intensity, whether it was an incredibly effective and dramatic hour or an altogether bizarre, puzzling one. I’ll do my best to recap my thoughts on the season in its various stages of quality throughout the season.

The season got off to a decent start with a good premiere, but the arrival of the French reporter in the second episode was what really got things going. Her rather comic display of non-affection for Lou was entertaining, but a distant second to the wounds she opened up for the main characters, especially Tommy. I’ve written about the two things that made the first eight episodes of this season great several times in my Emmy predictions and AFT Awards: the exploration of the effects of 9/11 and Tommy’s alcoholism. Jimmy popping up on the tape from the World Trade Center was an incredible launching point for both of these storylines to be explored, and a powerfully haunting look back at what the show was originally about in its first season.

Three episodes – “Sheila,” “Perspective,” and “Iceman” – were completely stunning and just as good as, if not better than, this show has ever been. Tommy diving back into his drinking, thinking he could control it, was absolutely fascinating, and complemented wonderfully by the conflicting viewpoints of conspiracy theorist Franco and optimist Mike. Genevieve was the perfect catalyst for the reopening of these threads that had seemed all but dead, and it made the series completely unmissable for those few episodes. Tommy’s change of heart and self-deceptive acceptance of his alcoholism was so unexpected and so entirely interesting. The problem was, like the addiction it was trying to portray so graphically, the show got a little out of hand by season’s end.

Tommy’ unbelievably shocking takedown of his intervening family and success in getting them to start drinking all over again was a very impressive moment. Its effectiveness as a dramatic plotline got derailed pretty quickly when it became overly comical. It didn’t make much sense at the start that Maggie was the only one of the family immune to Tommy’s “charm” since she was actually the zaniest and most out-of-control member of the Gavin clan. Mickey being pulled back to the bottle was a powerful thing, but he especially got too goofy. The whole crew sitting at the bar laughing like idiots really ruined what had been a dramatic high point for the show. While it led to an inevitable loss familiar to the cycle of “Rescue Me,” the general madness instilled in the always-loopy Teddy wasn’t quite as great as it could have been. Teddy has always been crazy, but never dangerous. I find it hard to believe that he’d go so far off the deep end and shoot Tommy after everything else he’s been through, particularly the death of Connor. It’s obvious that Tommy will survive and be a changed man, but hasn’t he done that enough already?

Looking at other characters, their plotlines weren’t fully strong, but certainly interesting, to begin with, at the very least. Needles was terrific in the first half of the season in his attempts to be taken more seriously, and the more comic introduction of his wife was pretty funny. The reintroduction of Candy was frustrating because it was clear from the start how it was going to play out, and it’s not as if the bum-like Lou has really changed at all as a result. Franco’s potentially lesbian relationship was a bit fun while it lasted, but his abrupt dismissal of her upon realizing (or rather, presuming) her true sexual orientation was rather disappointing. Mike’s band wasn’t terribly cool, and Sean’s cancer storyline proved interesting for a bit (especially with the peculiar musical sequences), but like with Lou, it didn’t really change him much. It reminds me of watching seasons on DVD when I already know what happens in a later season of the show and that the plotline can’t possibly go anywhere. But in this case there was never much doubt that nothing would be accomplished from the temporary introduction of guest characters and arcs for regulars, and that’s a real shame.

Now on to the two (make that three) crazy ladies in Tommy’s life. Sheila was a hoot and also provided dramatic poignancy, and her attempt to “seduce” Tommy in one of the season’s later episodes was pretty terrific. Damien’s undying loyalty to her didn’t make much sense particularly because he appeared in the first ever episode of the show as a hacker who gave Janet’s boyfriend’s computer a virus. His willingness and ability to mess with Tommy so freely seems a bit hard to believe, especially since he was supposed to be the probie and get hazed far more than he did. Someone pointed out to me that he is the son of Jimmy Keefe, and therefore might be very certain of the security of his job. Janet started out very fun, reminiscent of her former self with her weekend getaway with Tommy, but she quickly became rather cold. It was fun to see Tommy squirm, but not nearly as satisfying once it became clear that she didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Watching the two of them duke it out for ownership of Tommy was pretty funny, but it got just a little silly.

Then came woman number three. Maura Tierney was simply magnificent in her complete dismissal of anyone and everyone, and her concurrent attempts to sleep with each and every one of the firefighters. I had no idea that she was just a skilled actress and so fantastically able to out-act and out-one-liner Denis Leary. I’m hopeful that she’ll stick around for a bit since she seems to be bringing out the best in Tommy, and because she’s such a talented performer. Her meeting with Sheila and Janet was a lot of fun, and nice to see her so entirely unintimidated and unfazed by these two crazy ladies. She’s my choice for the best guest star of the season even though many trumpeted Michael J. Fox, who did do an impressive job but the role wasn’t quite as terrific as it was made out to be.

In summation, “Rescue Me” was able to rediscover itself in the first half of the season, which aired during the 2008-2009 television season. Unfortunately, it couldn’t quite keep up with itself as it traded a dramatic resurgence for rather immature comedic storylines. I think part of the problem was that this cable series took on the unceremonial challenge of airing twenty-two episodes instead of the traditional thirteen. Broadcast television shows usually have approximately twenty-two episodes each season and often experience a slump in the middle of their seasons as a result of filler plotlines used to stretch out material to fill the entire run. “Rescue Me” was much better off sticking to thirteen. The first eight episodes were truly superb, and served as an excellent recovery from a very sub-par fourth season. The latter half of the fifth wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been or, more importantly, as good as it was at the start of this year.

Season finale: B
First eight episodes: A-
Latter episodes: B
Season grade: B
Season MVP: Maura Tierney

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