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RESCUE ME
Season One

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Denis Leary, Michael Lombardi, James McCaffrey, Jack McGee, Steven Pasquale, Andrea Roth, John Scurti, Daniel Sunjata
Creators: Denis Leary, Peter Tolan
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 594 Minutes
Release Date: June 7, 2005

ďBless me father, for I have sinnedÖand so have you.Ē

Shows ****

Ever since my faith in television was renewed by the continuously inventive Fox series, 24, Iíve been fortunate to discover additional shows that are as edgy and provocative as a TV series can get. Such a show is Rescue Me, one of the most engaging and extraordinarily raw character studies ever to be seen on the small screen. Leave it to the talented Denis Leary and co-creator Peter Tolan to deliver something special to network programming.

The series actually got created by way of the cancellation of Learyís previous TV endeavor, The Job. That show, as terrific as it was, never got marketed properly by its network, which Iím still not able to forgive for canceling it. The one great thing that came out of its cancellation was the ability of Leary and Tolan to create an even better, and more razor sharp series.

The series landed last year on perhaps the best network it could, the cable-based FX Network, who had already provided a good home for envelope-pushing shows like The Shield and Nip Tuck. With its many different qualities, itís hard to classify what kind of show Rescue Me is. Itís made up of moments of comedy, drama, and social commentary, all surrounded by a sheer level of authenticity.

The series takes an in-depth look at the personal and professional lives of a brotherhood of firefighters at a New York City firehouse. The initial spark for the series creation was Denis Learyís personal relationship with real life fireman in his hometown. Two other incidents fueled the creation; the death of a close relative/firefighter in 1999, and of course, 9/11.

Leary stars as Tommy Gavin, a twenty year veteran of Engine 62, whoís very dedicated to his job, and yet, has more turmoil in his life than anyone could ever manage. Ever since 9/11, he has been haunted by the ghosts of the very people he was unable to save on that fateful day. One of the ghosts is Gavinís own cousin who served with him in the same firehouse. He finds himself speaking with him in his home on a daily basis.

Added to this, Gavin is in the middle of a bitter separation from his wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), who has already started seeing someone else. Though they donít live in the same house, Gavin lives across the street from her so he can be close by for his three kids. Heís also close by so that he can keep a keen eye on Janet, as he doesnít want her fooling around with anyone.

Among the fellow firefighters in Engine 62, thereís the feisty Chief Jerry Reilly (Jack McGee), whoís a very good chief despite his gambling addiction and possible raging homophobia. Franco Rivera (Daniel Sunjata) is the resident ďladies-manĒ of the firehouse, and a cocky one at that. Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale) is a likeable guy but not the brightest of the bunch. Mike Silletti (Michael Lombardi) is the rookie of the crew who has to put with endless pranks as any probie does. Lastly, thereís Kenny ďLouĒ Shea (John Scurti), the joker of the bunch who happens to hide a hobby of writing poetry.

Each episode acquires the same wondrous mix of elements that make Rescue Me one of the most original TV shows to come around since 24. And being that it was aired late in the evening on a basic cable network and carried the rare TV-MA rating, it allowed for such bonuses as constant profanity and even some steamy sex, and all episodes carry a surprising amount of each. For a first season run, this show definitely got off to a fiery start that can only make those who watch it ready for more seasons to come.

Season One consisted of many ups and downs for its characters. Most of which involve problems with various women and loved ones in the firemenís lives. But itís Gavin who encounters the most downs of everyone. With his marriage looking to end sooner than he wants it to, he begins an affair of his own with the widow of a deceased firefighter, something that is absolutely forbidden amongst firehouses. The season finale ends on quite a downer, as all of Gavinís problems catch up with him simultaneously, causing a big time breakdown. Iím highly anticipating how Season 2 will follow up on this bitter note.

Denis Leary has come a long way from his early days as a superb stand up comic sensation. I was a fan of him then, and now as he delves into his most serious work on Rescue Me, I respect Mr. Leary even more. Whatís even more interesting to note is that the character of Tommy Gavin, along with many of the characters on the show, isnít too likeable. Tommy is a heavy drinker, carries a bad temper, and in addition to not being too respectful of women, he begins to become a womanizer, even as he attempts to make things right between him and his estranged wife. Itís a wonderfully complex role, and Leary breathes fire and life into it.

With its scathingly raw qualities and entertainment value, Rescue Me is hard-edged TV at its highest, and a series that will hopefully have a long enough run on the small screen. With a second season about to begin and a strong reaction from critics and viewers alike, it seems that that wish has already been granted. I have already found it to be a surefire television treasure.

BONUS: In 2000, Denis Leary started The Leary Firefighterís Foundation, which provides funding and resources to obtain the highest level of equipment, training and technology for firefighters. The foundation reportedly raised around 1.2 million dollars for the 343 families of the fireman who gave their lives at Ground Zero.

Video ****

Sony provides one of the best looking presentations of any TV series Iíve seen on DVD. Rescue Me was fortunate to be, like many current popular shows, shot in widescreen. That format transfers grandly on the DVD format, as the overall picture is as crisp and fully detailed as one could hope for. Colors are most exceptional, as well.

Audio ***1/2

For a 2-channel mix, this sound presentation is near terrific. Dialogue delivery is as striking and clear as can be. And other areas of sound, especially that of music, sound nothing short of fantastic. The title song, ďCímon CímonĒ by The Von Bondies, always gets the speakers rocking, as do numerous tracks on certain episodes. Firefighting sequences also provide some dynamic sound power. Extremely well handled!

Features ***1/2

This 3-disc set is fired up with a fitting level of bonus items, which are separated amongst the three discs. Included is selected episode commentary with Denis Leary and co-creator Peter Tolan, a 4 part behind the scenes featurette, a very funny and lengthy gag reel, deleted scenes, previews, and an exclusive sneak peak at Season 2, which starts June 21 on FX.

Summary:

Rescue Me is a thrilling, one of a kind television experience that can now be enjoyed through the DVD experience. It pushes the limits of TV, and manages to be just as explosive as the fires its characters battle day-by-day. Itís an outstanding mixture of genres, as Denis Leary has helped to provide one of the best reasons to enjoy television again.

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