Rescue Judge Gordon Sullivan? Don't bother. He's enjoying his marathons with Denis Leary and Co.
Our reviews of Rescue Me: Season One (published June 27th, 2005), Rescue Me: The Complete Second Season (published June 7th, 2006), Rescue Me: The Complete Third Season (published June 5th, 2007), Rescue Me: Season Five, Volume One (published September 1st, 2009), Rescue Me: Season Five, Volume Two (published December 8th, 2009), and Rescue Me: The Sixth Season And The Final Season (published September 29th, 2011) are also available.
Sometimes you have to play with fire.
I watch all my TV on DVD, and the shows generally fall into two categories. The first includes those shows that I absolutely love and rewatch frequently. The other includes my "guilty pleasure" shows, those that, however good they may be, I'm only likely to watch once. Rescue Me falls into the latter camp. When each season is released on DVD, I greedily watch all 13 episodes in a couple of days, but then promptly forget about it until the next DVD release. I was certainly anticipating this release of Rescue Me: The Complete Fourth Season because of all the threads the writers left hanging. Generally, I was happy with the resolution and development of the plots from last season, but overall this season just doesn't have quite the impact that the previous three seasons delivered.
Facts of the Case
Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary, Small Soldiers) and the guys of 62 Truck are back for 13 more episodes of firefighting fun. We last saw Tommy with Sheila in a beach house engulfed in flames. As this season opens, they are under investigation for insurance fraud. Janet's not doing well with the new baby (who doesn't have a name or a good lock on who his father is yet). The Chief is still on leave pending a physical. Garrity and Maggie are still rocky, while Natalie and Franco seem to be moving forward. The probie's mom is getting sicker, while Uncle Teddy is still facing hard time. The rest of the season follows the characters as they deal with the fallout of these situations. Like previous seasons of Rescue Me, it would take another ten thousand words to scratch the surface of all the different subplots that weave their way through these 13 episodes. Suffice it to say that if you expect the worst and/or funniest thing that could happen to a character, you'll probably be right.
The best thing about Rescue Me is the fact that each season plays almost like a single episode. It's not quite 24, but individual episodes don't have the usual three-act structure, and very rarely does an issue brought up in an episode get solved in that episode. Instead, stories unfold more gradually (and I would say naturally as well). Because of this structure, the writers can keep everything fresh by bringing certain storylines to a boil while others languish on the backburner, only to switch things up and devote an entire episode to an issue that was almost forgotten. It's a delicate system, and I suspect that the show is not kind to casual viewers, because it can sometimes be hard to keep up even when watching shows back to back. Despite the high level of quality in the writing, a couple of problems bogged down Season Four.
The biggest problem, for me, was that it peaked too early. A couple of lingering storylines from Season Three get resolved fairly early in Season Four, and that was the emotional highlight of the season. From then on I was interested, but after the sucker punches early on, the rest of the season seemed sort of tame. Related to the peaking problem, this season seemed to lack a central problem (or problems) that the other seasons had. Instead of one big conflict, this season focused on a bunch of smaller difficulties. I was interested in the various situations, but none of them had the impact of Connor's death or Johnny's relationship with Janet.
Also, this season ended with a bit of a fizzle. There was some emotional impact, but little in the way of a cliffhanger. However, the finale did do an excellent job setting the stage for Season Five. By the end of this season there were enough conflicts brewing to make Season Five a must-view.
I know Rescue Me is on a cable network and budget/time constraints keep it to 13 episodes a season, but the show is busting at the seams. 13 episodes at a time just isn't a large enough canvas on which to paint all the stories the writers want to tell. Tommy is obviously the focus of the show, but the show has done a great job creating the supporting characters, and 13 episodes at a time just doesn't do them justice. Word on the street is that Season Five will be expanded to 22 episodes, and it's about time. With all the major players getting significant story time, this season of Rescue Me clearly demonstrates the need for more room to expand.
Rescue Me: The Complete Fourth Season also falls a little flat in the technical department when compared to last season. Shot in HD, the image generally looks pretty sharp, but there seemed to be a little more grain this time out. It's not a bad presentation, but I was expecting a little more. The audio is slightly better, with excellent balance and good effects. The lack of subtitles is a bummer, and something I hope future seasons correct.
Most of the extras are the usual clip-laden examinations of aspects of the show. Fun for a once-over, but not very deep. We also get deleted scenes, many of which actually add to the storylines. There's also a blooper reel with loads of flubbed lines and cursing. This season also gives us "Firehouse (Real Stories from America's Bravest)," which includes interviews with firefighters telling their true stories. Personally, I'd like some commentaries and more focus on the writers, but what's here isn't bad.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although I didn't find this season as compelling as the previous three, it's still the same Rescue Me. Tommy may be off the sauce, but he's still the foul-mouthed, belligerent, politically incorrect bastard he's always been. His crew is still on for the ride, taking black comedy potshots at death, religion, and sexuality. If you loved the first three seasons then this one is easy to recommend, even if it's not quite up to snuff.
Although I enjoy Rescue Me, it is certainly an acquired taste. Those who are easily offended or want to keep a pristine image of what goes on in a firehouse are urged to avoid this show.
Season Four didn't quite reach the high bar set by the first three seasons. However, it's still a great show that features solid writing, loads of drama, and some amazing performances. This season also doesn't meet the bar in tech specs, but this is still a respectable presentation. If, like me, you're addicted to the antics of Tommy and his crew, then this season is worth a shot.
Rescue Me: The Complete Fourth Season is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• "Walking Through Fire: The Stories of Season 4"
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