The annual parade of Sept. 11 anniversary specials has been such that networks have been forced to become increasingly creative to turn up fresh angles. Two airing in close proximity reflect this challenge, with “A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY,” representing a much more peripheral take, yet proving both deeply personal and affecting; and “9/10: The Final Hours” feeling like a considerable stretch — an interesting idea that’s simply too diffused to rein in. If there’s one to watch, it’s the former, produced by and featuring former firefighter-turned-actor Steve Buscemi.
To those unfamiliar with that part of Buscemi’s biography, he spent four years as a fireman, and shares an obvious rapport with those who serve. In candid, low-key interviews that vaguely resemble James Gandolfini’s “Alive Day Memories’ ” chats with Iraq war veterans, Buscemi elicits a wide range of anecdotes about everything from integrating the Spartan ranks of firefighters (first with African-Americans, then women) to — in the doc’s final third — the hundreds who were lost on Sept. 11.
In a relatively short amount of time, “A Good Job” (a reference to a really serious fire) manages to be by turns touching and funny, capturing the camaraderie of firefighters — including the colorful hazing that’s part of hanging around in a firehouse all day — as well as the way danger and death become ever-present handmaidens of the work.
“You should be scared,” as one veteran, Joseph Esposito, notes. “That’s what keeps you alive.”
In some ways, “Stories of the FDNY” feels like the real-life underpinnings to the series “Rescue Me,” but that doesn’t make the material any less interesting, with director Liz Garbus weaving just enough of Buscemi and his personal recollections into the proceedings to enhance the project without overwhelming it.
By that measure, “A Good Job” is, indeed, a job well done.
As for “9/10,” what sounds like a fertile concept — exploring what things were like before the Sept. 11 attacks, and how they fundamentally altered the U.S.’ worldview — gets lost in portentous narration (“The day before the day that changed everything”) and a diluted focus, including far too many personal anecdotes.
Certainly there’s room for various specials devoted to the topic, perhaps most significantly, in terms of issues touched on here, how the media operated before Sept. 11; and failings of the intelligence community, admittedly pretty well-worn territory.
But “9/10” feels like three or four different takes rolled into one, doing justice to none of them. So the videoclips of what was in the news on Sept. 10 and an interview with a local TV anchor, Jim Watkins, mostly get lost in the haze of interviews with former World Trade Center employees and first-person accounts from those who had brushes with terrorist Mohamed Atta on the eve of the attacks.
Several other specials are scheduled to coincide with Sept. 11’s 13th anniversary, but perhaps it’s time to give the day a rest as an annual TV event until the next genuine milestone or, barring that, till someone finds something new and novel to say.
And no, “9/9: The Day Before the Day Before” and “9/12: The Day After” don’t count.
TV Review: HBO's 'A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY,' NatGeo's '9/10: The Final Hours'
(Documentary; HBO, Mon. Sept. 8, 9 p.m.)
(Documentary; National Geographic Channel, Sun. Sept. 7, 9 p.m.)
Produced by Moxie Firecracker Films and Olive Prods.
Produced by Creative Differences Prods.
Executive producers, Stanley Tucci, Sheila Nevins; supervising producer, Lisa Heller; producers, Liz Garbus, Wren Arthur, Steve Buscemi; co-producer, Mridu Chandra; director, Garbus; camera, Maryse Alberti; editor, Karen Sim; music, Philip Sheppard. 60 MIN.
Executive producers, Erik Nelson, Kathleen Cromley; director, Nelson. 120 MIN.