Sony // 2009 // 451 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 1st, 2009
Sometimes you have to play with fire.
The fourth season of Rescue Me wasn't quite up to snuff when compared to the previous seasons (at least in this reviewer's eyes), but FX still decided it was time to one of its flagship shows into the big leagues by giving Rescue Me a complete, 22-episode season for its fifth outing. While both the acting and production keep to their usual high standards, the writing this time out can't quite keep up with the demands of the characters or the longer format of the season. The fact that the season is being released in two parts makes it even harder to recommend.
As usual everything in the life of Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary, The Job) is a mess. His dad's dead now, he's got a hearing coming up to determine whether he's mentally fit for duty, his daughter is dating someone at the firehouse, his wife has a new boyfriend, and he's barely clinging to sobriety. When a reporter comes digging around asking questions about 9/11 it puts everyone on edge, and as Tommy digs deeper he discovers that what he thought he knew about that day might not be the whole truth.
Rescue Me: Season Five, Volume One has 11 episodes on three discs:
Minor Spoilers ahead. I'll talk about setup (like "so-and-so is sleeping with so-and-so") but not about fallout.
One of the things I always loved about Rescue Me was that it managed to pack all the regular "ups and downs" drama into a season that played like a single episode. The hits kept coming and by the time I'd settled into to a season it had ended with another cliffhanger ending that made me want more. Part of that trend continues with Season Five, but some of the magic is gone. The first half still plays like a single episode, but the ups and downs feel more like a kiddie ride than a roller coaster. Each episode of previous seasons brought major revelations, but this time out they seem much smaller. Tommy becomes an AA sponsor. Big deal. Sheila decides to let Damien become a firefighter. Woo hoo. Janet is involved with another guy, and he's handicapped. So what? The biggest reveal of these 11 episodes is that Jimmy didn't die the way everybody thought in the collapse of the first tower, but even that doesn't have the impact it might have a season or two ago. That's not to say there aren't big changes afoot this season, but they just don't have the impact of previous seasons.
I'm also not a huge fan of bringing 9/11 front and center for this season. It worked great in the background, adding pathos and a bit of realism to the show. Each character's relationship to that day helped color who they were a little bit. Throwing a reporter into the mix and focusing on 9/11 conspiracies robs the show of one of its more delicate and subtle elements, and it's a subtlety the show could stand to hold on to. The other reason that 9/11 doesn't work is that it's not an effective dramatic element: the lines are too clearly drawn and no amount of evidence is going to change a true believer into a conspiracy theorist or vice versa. If it stays in the background, that's okay, and it helps to shade the characters. Brought to the fore it fails to add anything.
The whole 9/11 situation also gives the writers and excuse to fall over into bathos. Several episodes end with various characters giving monologues on their experiences on 9/11, and it's only the exquisite performances of the cast that keep these over-long, under-baked moments from sinking the entire season. Each of these scenes completely and pointlessly violates the "show don't tell" rule of successful writing and they slow the season unnecessarily.
While I'm talking about the show's problems, it's worth mentioning that this whole two-volume release idea is a bum one. I know we're used to only getting around a dozen Rescue Me episodes at a time, but now that FX has stepped up with the big boys by giving the show a full season, they need to step up and give fans a complete season release rather than this piecemeal garbage. It's especially galling considering this set is coming out just as the season is finishing its run on the air. That makes this set look like a vulgar cash grab, and that's not a good thing.
I still can't complain about the acting or the production behind Rescue Me. Everybody keeps the bar high for their characters, both regulars and guests alike. In fact, the highlight of this season so far is Michael J. Fox as Janet's new wheelchair-bound boyfriend. He plays the character like Tommy in a wheelchair with maximum machismo and a hilarious attitude towards his difficulties. It's a great comic performance that incorporates Fox's own physical difficulties brilliantly.
This season also steps up the action a little more than the last. It seems like we saw fewer and fewer fires as the show went on, with the guys only leaving the house on a job at very dramatic moments, but this season offers a number of fires for 62 truck to put out. My favorite is the fire in a bootleg fireworks warehouse that has all the guys ducking for cover.
On the DVD front, this season so far looks a bit better than the last in the visual department. The darker scenes look a little clearer and the daylight scenes are a bit brighter. The audio is on-par from other seasons with a good dialogue/effects balance. The lack of subtitles is a bit obnoxious, but the show is closed captioned.
Extras include a bunch of deleted scenes that flesh out the characters and their situations some more, with a gag reel for all the usual flubs. We also get a featurette on the stunts of the show, and a more general behind-the-scenes overview.
The ratings were up for the fifth season of Rescue Me so evidently some people liked it, but based on what I'm seeing on this Season Five, Volume One set, this is the weakest season of the show so far. Hopefully the second half will prove me wrong. Despite the generally excellent qualities of this release, it's hard to recommend a purchase of only half a season, especially when it looks as much like a cash grab as this one.
The boys of 62 truck are released on their own recognizance in the hopes that they'll do better next time.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 451 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site