Denis Leary continues to play Denis Leary, this time grafted onto the NYFD and just as neurotic, unable to maintain a marriage and dedicated to his job as he was on ABC’s brilliant but short-lived “The Job.” For Leary fans, it’s a treat to have him back on the air in a smartly drawn, non-PC drama with a heavy comedic element. The tone of “Rescue Me” fits well with FX’s two other series, “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck,” augmenting the channel’s reputation for the raw and edgy.
FX has quickly become a home for characters in crisis. “Rescue Me,” which eloquently introduces a squad of firefighters and their milieus in the pilot and brings out their prejudices in episode two, may well be the first post-9/11 visual media focused on the people trying to block it out. To the firefighters of uptown Manhattan’s 62 Truck, it’s a chapter best left unread; for Leary’s Tommy Gavin, who lost his cousin and best friend Jimmy Keefe (James McCaffrey) in the attacks, it is part of his living nightmare.
“Rescue Me” joins the parade of shows with active non-living people — a stunt bordering on overdone — and it effectively limns the route of Tommy Gavin’s decline. Within two episodes, he is off the wagon and smoking again, spying on his soon-to-be ex-wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), plotting against her new b.f. Roger (Jay Potter) and somehow ably doing his job.
For Leary’s character, it’s not that different from “The Job,” which Leary and Peter Tolan created and wrote. “Rescue Me,” however, is set in a world of anger, pride and prejudice that gives it ample darkness to explore — and a crack team of actors to make it all believable.
Series opens with Gavin berating a class of new recruits and then retreating to his truck, where cousin Jimmy is waiting. It quickly becomes apparent that Jimmy is an illusion, a steadying force when Gavin gets close to going over the edge.
Action is almost benign in the retelling: The firefighters respond to calls and sit around the firehouse discussing the usual — sports, drinking, women. A psychologist pays a visit and they clam up, save for Gavin, who sees an opening and plows through it with a rant.
Firefighters, “Rescue Me” tells us, don’t work well with folks outside their circle. They flagrantly display their homophobia — a key point in the impressive second episode — as well as a disdain for the wealthy and the weird, anybody they can call a “pussy.” They use ethnic slurs for nicknames, half-expect a miserable home life and somehow stay dedicated to providing for their children.
Tolan spices up the series with language that stings, frenetic camerawork and a collection of actors who run from Archie Bunker-types to the straight guys after a “Queer Eye” makeover. Heading the former is squad chief Jerry Reilly (Jack McGee), a loose cannon with a gambling addiction; the latter category has Franco Rivera (Daniel Sunjata) and Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale), a ladies man and a know-it-all, respectively. Complexity of the various characters, rather than their likability, gives them considerable appeal.
Taut direction from Tolan (pilot) and John Fortenberry (second episode) keeps the show consistent in tone.
Rare use of New York City to play New York City works well.