I’ve been watching the new Dennis Leary show Rescue Me. I’ve always liked Leary, but I think this is the best dramatic work I’ve ever seen from him. He’s the co-creator, co-writer of several episodes and the star. This show is simultaneously funny, poignant, sarcastic and rude. Leary’s character, Tommy Gavin, sees dead people – primarily his firefighting cousin who died on 9/11. I like the way that you can’t tell whether this is magical realism or whether Gavin is losing his mind. His life is falling apart in many ways as he is getting a divorce, dumping AA and returning to drinking, and engaging in all kinds of self-destructive behavior. It’s a testament to Leary’s charisma that he can make this guy, who is in most ways an unlikable son of a bitch, a sympathetic character. He’s a tough guy with a tough job, and just this side of completely losing control of it all.
I also like the complexity of the characters and the moral ambiguity of the show. In one storyline, the chief of the house beats up a gay retired fireman for saying publicly that dozens of the firefighters killed on 9/11 were gay. From the confrontation scene, we get the inkling that while the charge may or may not be true, the gay firefighter might also be a self-aggrandizing liar. Then, in the fight the chief is actually getting his ass kicked until he hits the other guy from behind in a sucker punch. This is not simple black and white stuff. Bad people can be on the right side of an issue, good people can be completely in the wrong, everyone can be making a terrible mistake at any time. In the last few years, almost entirely from cable channels, we have seen a renaissance of TV shows that continue a more complex view of humanity than the simple good guy/bad guy stuff of the last 50 years. I think this a highly positive trend. Even as the proportion of offerings tilt ever more towards schlocky bullshit reality programming, the scripted shows we are left with are inching up in quality.
I recommend this show highly. It shouldn’t be hard to find, because FX is showing it at least three different nights a week.