Sony // 2004 // 594 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // June 27th, 2005
The ultimate soap opera for guys.
Crafted as a homage to the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11, Rescue Me quickly proves that it's more than mere hero worship. It offers an entertaining (if skewed) look at this dangerous profession, and becomes a celebration of firefighters the way that Fargo is a celebration of the citizens of Minnesota. The resulting series will thrill some and infuriate others.
Truck Company 62 in New York is still trying to get over the loss of four men that occurred on 9/11. Few members of the team seem as devastated as Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary, The Job). He lost his cousin in the fire, is getting a divorce from his wife, doesn't get along with his kids, and has begun to see the ghosts of former firefighters and victims he was unable to save. The other men have been affected, too. Captain Jerry Reilly (Jack McGee, Backdraft) has a lot of pent up anger, Billy (Ed Sullivan) has completely withdrawn emotionally, and Lou (John Scurti, Mona Lisa Smile) has secretly taken to writing poetry. Some of the younger guys on the team have less trouble with the past, but Sean (Steven Pasquale), Franco (Daniel Sunjata) and Mike (Mike Lombardi) all have their own share of problems.
Few will deny that firefighters have a particularly heroic job. They throw themselves into danger to save people, both from fires and from other dangerous situations. They are often the first group on the scene of an emergency, and they often get the messiest jobs to take care of. We owe a debt of gratitude to our firefighters, because they are the ones who go into the burning buildings when the rest of us are running out. At the same time, they are ordinary guys. They have issues and problems, make mistakes in their personal lives, and aren't usually noted for being an especially civilized group. In fact, if Rescue Me is at all accurate, they are a big bunch of jerks.
The series does a great job of playing with this dichotomy. It's impossible not to respect these men as they place themselves in danger. The emergency sequences are all business, with documentary style shooting and a focus on heroics. Sometimes they do stupid things, but it never seems to be in vain, since they are working for such a noble purpose. At the same time, it's difficult to respect any of these men after watching them stumble disastrously through their personal lives. Tommy Gavin is a poster boy for bad fathers everywhere, as he manipulates and lies to his children, and uses a variety of women for sex while actively trying to get back together with his wife. Is this what a hero looks like? Most of the men act in similar ways, from Franco's hyper-sexual lifestyle to Jerry's out-of-control gambling and anger problems. The conversations they share in the firehouse are equal parts funny and offensive, a perfect representation of misogynistic, racist, homophobic stereotypes.
I have no doubt that Rescue Me is a fairly accurate portrayal of what happens behind the walls of urban fire halls. After all, the profession draws certain types of people. Firefighters are risk takers, people who put themselves in mortal danger on a regular basis, live life to the fullest, and trust the other members of their squads with their lives. They live and eat together, fight fires together, and traditionally come from certain ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Although that's gradually changing, as a group they are particularly resistant to change. Put a group like that together, and you can all but expect this kind of behavior. In watching this series, the viewer is required to decide whether the heroics of this team are important and honorable enough to excuse their horrible (albeit funny) behavior the rest of the time.
The dialogue is fantastic. Denis Leary brings a lot of vicious and sarcastic humor to the table, which mixes nicely with the gritty subject matter and content. This series goes for the balls and isn't afraid to take the audience wherever it wants to go. Although some things don't work as well as others (as I will discuss shortly), this is a well-conceived and daringly executed series. The performers handle this dialogue well, and each of them is believable in spite of the ridiculous scenarios that they find themselves in.
Unfortunately, Rescue Me has almost as many flaws as strengths. While the writing is raw and witty, it lacks any semblance of subtlety or finesse. If the writing team wants to deal with homosexuality, it will fit into the main plot thread: One of the character's sons is also a gay firefighter, one of their teenage daughters turns out to be gay, and one of the characters is accosted by a gay man that he rescued. When themes are handled with this level of clumsiness through the whole series, it gets tiresome. The most frustrating is one episode where one character learns that an old friend has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Later in the same episode, his wife gets lost and ends up in the wrong firehouse. It turns out that she has...Alzheimer's disease! This is sloppy writing, especially on a series with such great dialogue.
Sometimes convenient things will happen to get rid of a character for several episodes. You never get to know any of the other firefighters in Hall 62. This group is always there, on various shifts, but it's always the same people on. Perhaps I am confused about how fire hall shifts work, but I would assume the chief would be there during the day, and other people would get a variety of shifts. Never mind that some of them still have the energy to go out and have casual sex with a different girl every episode, their fire hall doesn't seem to exist unless they are all working. Since the firefighting itself is designed to be so realistic, it seems odd that the rest of the show would be so stylized and exaggerated. Perhaps this is another way to emphasize the distance between the nature of the work and the nature of the workers, but it didn't work that well for me. The ridiculousness of their personal lives feels like a soap opera as often as it feels like a drama series, and I found that I got tired of the constant sexual escapades and personal disasters. There aren't many emergencies either, sometimes only one every couple episodes, and I would have liked to see more. To their credit, the fire sequences are creative and varied, and realistic considering the budget of the show.
On the most part, the discs are a good way to watch Rescue Me. The series was shot on 24p, and while it has strong detail levels, the series looks flat and washed out. This isn't distracting through most of the scenes, but it's problematic during the emergency sequences. A few of them look terrible, with excessive graininess and fuzz in the dark buildings and billowing smoke. This is especially true in "Inches." Since these are the moments that should look best, it's a shame that they didn't get it right. These are the darkest scenes, so this could simply be due to a high compression rate from having so many episodes on each disc. The sound is better, with a Dolby Surround track that's primarily in the front sound stage, but does justice to the music, dialogue, and action sequences.
Extras include an entertaining blooper reel and several featurettes describing the production of the series. They cover a lot of bases, from the development to the script to the way that the fires were designed and filmed. They run for about an hour, and are well worth exploring for fans of the series. There are also commentary tracks with Denis Leary and Peter Tolan on the first and last episode. The commentary tracks are good, thanks to Tolin's attention to detail and the fact that Leary is a genuinely funny guy. There are a few smaller extras as well, including a short preview for the second season, some deleted scenes and some trailers.
Hovering in the background, unwilling to disappear, is the reminder of the sacrifice made by the firefighters at 9/11. While these men still do deserve credit, Rescue Me flip-flops between claiming that we shouldn't approach firefighters as heroes and reminding us how heroic these men were at this critical event. By the end of the season, I was starting to get tired of hearing about it. That pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole show. Rescue Me is gutsy and unique, and if it had only had more variety and subtlety, it wouldn't have worn out its welcome the way that it did. By the end of the season, I was glad it was over instead of wishing there was more.
In spite of its flaws, Rescue Me has somehow accomplished what it set out to do. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 594 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Production Featurettes
* Sneak Peek
* Commentary Tracks