Last week, I talked about how Rescue Me often works better as a collection of scenes than a show where things come together to tell a story over the course of an episode or even a season. I also posited that it might be more interesting to tackle the show as a series of scenes or sequences (with individual grades for each scene or sequence) than an overall episode. So let's try that approach this week, and see what happens.
Previously on Rescue Me: Tommy died. Things happened attached to that. We are informed of all of them.
Scene/sequence 1: This is technically a series of scenes, but they tell the same story, so we'll count it as one. Tommy comes home to find that Franco is sitting at his kitchen table, shirtless, helping Katie with her homework. Later, Black Shawn comes out of the other room, also shirtless. Katie is impressed with both men's muscles. Tommy eventually drags both men outside to talk to them about how he'd rather not have them wandering around shirtless and discuss how he feels about his family with Franco (and tell Black Shawn to go take care of Colleen, who's sick from drinking again). This is actually a pretty nice little sequence. It has some great laughs in it, like the constant parade of shirtless men who can't fit into Tommy's clothes (all shirtless because the baby, who's been a baby for a while now, right?, keeps puking on them) and the fact that Franco is helping Katie with her Spanish homework. It also ends well, with a fairly sweet scene where Franco encourages Tommy to tell his family how he really feels about them. The show's hit this beat before, but it almost always works. Plus, we head into the credits, which are still among the best on TV. Grade: B+
Scene 2: Much shorter. Tommy tries to tell his girls he loves them. Colleen gets sick again. Tommy tells Janet "Love you" as she exits to care for their daughter, and when he repeats it, she seems baffled and bewildered by this. It's nice that the show follows immediately from what went before here, but the scene hits yet another of those things I don't terribly like about the show: the sense that Tommy and the women in his life are all so caustic toward each other that they don't even really believe love exists in the relationship and are staying out of it from inertia. Not a BAD scene, per se (the look on Andrea Roth's face when she sticks her head back in is priceless), but one that has been done many, many times before. Grade: B-
Scene 3: Tommy tries to talk to Katie about blow jobs for some reason, but they're actually talking about a dance contest. Comic hilarity ensues! Grade: C
Scene 4: The theme of the episode, apparently, is that life is precious or something. Sheila calls Tommy to badger him about talking Damien out of being a firefighter (because badgering is what Sheila does so well), and Tommy says he's going to tell Damien that he shouldn't just do what he thinks his dad would have wanted. Then Mickey calls and Tommy says that, yeah, he'd like to go to a meeting, apparently feeling deeply guilty about drinking in a Catholic church last week (unless he's still dead, which … more about in the stray observations). This scene mostly exists to move plotlines forward. There's nothing egregiously bad about it, but there's nothing to really get excited about either. Grade: B-
Scene 5: A long scene, nearly five minutes, set in the firehouse kitchen. Scenes set in the firehouse kitchen tend to be the best of any episode, and this is no exception. There's some great banter among the guys about pot brownies, why Sean doesn't like pot, and whether pot made Mike stupid that couldn't really be replicated here on paper. Then Lou falls off a step ladder, and we all fear for his health (even Needles). Then Tommy comes in and makes everyone laugh by saying he's going to quit drinking again. (The other firefighters are often used as audience surrogates, as they are here.) Then he says nice things to everyone and compliments Sean, which makes Sean feel strange. Look, we all have to know that Rescue Me isn't going to play out its final two seasons as the entirety of the "Scrooge wakes up and realizes that he needs to be a better man" section of A Christmas Carol. Something's going to give, and that robs Tommy's life changes of their dramatic power. But the stuff with the guys is always hilarious. I'd love to watch a half-hour sitcom spinoff set entirely in this kitchen, with Tommy occasionally coming in to talk about the crazy stuff in his life and everybody laughing him off. Grade: A-
Scene 6: An extension of scene 5. Tommy and Black Shawn talk about the latter's relationship with Colleen. I just don't buy much of this scene because I don't buy that Black Shawn would try to talk to Tommy about their sex life, and that drags the rest of everything down. Grade: C+
Scene 7: The weekly "This is the overarching plot we sort of care about" reminder scene. Needles wants Fienberg to go to the department to make the case for the house staying open. Fienberg would rather stake their survival on throwing a successful barbecue. The essential philosophical differences between these viewpoints are discussed but not thoroughly explored. Fienberg gets in a good line about "we only shoot guys on our own crew" though. Grade: C+
Scene 8: Another longer scene. Tommy tries to talk to Damien about being a coward and being a firefighter and how death could come at any time. Then he tells him he's proud of him, and Damien ends the scene saying, "Definitely gotta be pills." On its own, this isn't a bad scene at all. In fact, there's quite a bit to like about a scene where Tommy tries to play father figure to a surrogate son and mostly just weirds the guy out. But the show has hit these beats so many times before and has expressed this theme about "Death could come at any time!" that there's no real potency to it anymore. The series doesn't especially DO anything with this theme. Rather, it sits there, Tommy occasionally realizes it and tries to change his life, and then things go back to normal. Still, a well-written scene. Just kind of inert. Grade: B
Scene 9: Speaking of hitting the same notes over and over … here's a Sheila scene. How did the talk with Damien go? Oh, it went well. Well, it needs to go better. I don't know if it can go better. HE'S MY SON. That's basically it. That's all it's ever been. Do something else with Sheila, show. Grade: D+
Scene 10: Two things this show does pretty consistently well: monologues and Tommy and Lou scenes. This scene features both! Tommy tells Lou about what he saw after he died, and Lou's giddiness at hearing about it is funny stuff. The monologue, even though it restates exactly what opened the episode last week, is evocatively written, and hearing about those events from the perspective of Tommy is interesting in and of itself. Lou's look of stricken terror is also great (Scurti is always good at reaction shots). And did you notice how Sheila's presence in hell didn't come up at all? Minor points taken off for Mike overhearing, which was handled clumsily. You just know this will drive an artificial wedge between Tommy and Lou. Gag. Grade: A-
Scene 11: Or maybe not! Mike goes in and tells the other guys immediately about what he overheard and says they need to get Tommy a priest. The others are unsurprised by Tommy going to Hell and say as much. From here, we segue into a scene where Sean lectures the others (humorously) on making positive change. This involves bringing up (for mockery again) Mike's inexplicable affair with his roommate (one of the show's lowest points) and Sean setting a jerk-off quotient. Then Tommy and Lou come in and ask what everyone's talking about, only to be met by one of the least convincing group answers ever. The thing I love about these scenes is that they follow sitcom conventions, basically, but they do so in a way that feels almost naturalistic. Noel was talking about Barney Miller last week, and these scenes feel … a lot like that show, actually. Minor points off for Sean's big speech, which felt poorly motivated. Grade: B+
Scene 12: The "When will Damien die" sweepstakes continues in earnest. The guys send Damien beneath a crumbling building to rescue a child who's trapped down there. Tommy tries to stop them, but Damien's OK with it, really. He rescues the kid, then climbs out himself. As the guys walk away to buy him a drink, part of the building crumbles, covering the hole where Damien and the kid emerged from. Only Tommy notices, says "You've gotta be shitting me," presumably to God. A nicely tense little sequence but, again, it seems only there to delay storylines. Still, I'm in a good mood from the previous two scenes. Grade: B
Scene 13: It's a good Tommy/Janet scene! This, alone, should give the show a good grade. The two talk about change, how it's possible, how Janet used to be someone else and has become the shrill person she is (presumably thanks to Tommy). She's still not ready to hug him, but she hopes he'll go help Colleen. It's not the best scene ever, but the show does better by its female characters when they remember they only seem shrill because they have to put up with Tommy Gavin. When it keeps that in its head, it can write them as a little unlikable. When they're just those bitches Tommy has to endure, the show seems almost unbearably sexist. Grade: B
Scene 14: Tommy and Colleen talk about how he's unable to relate to her because she's a girl. I just generally don't like this plotline, which seems to again play out some of the show's issues with the ladies. Grade: C
Scene 15: Here's the problem with basing so much of these early episodes around the relationship between Tommy and Colleen: Tommy's kids aren't really characters. They're aspirations. He wants to be closer to them. He hopes they can have a good life. But when one of them is in danger, they're really only in danger as symbols of the things Tommy hopes for. And that makes for pretty boring drama, all things considered. I like the closing talk here about how change is hard because when you resolve to change, the world can screw with it, regardless of how sincere you are. But I think the whole Colleen thing is inherently imbalanced as a storyline to drive this season. Grade: B-
Full episode tilt: The good stuff outweighed the bad stuff, meaning the good scenes were longer, on average, than the bad scenes. But the bad scenes were pretty bad. So let's say … B-?
Full episode average: It works out to a B-. I know maths.
- Just a brief thought on last week's discussion of whether Tommy's still in hell. I'd wager this episode proves he isn't, but it's an intriguing notion. So much of last week felt thematically hazy and kind of weird that I was hoping this WOULD be the case, that he would find out in episode five or something. But I doubt we're going to get to see that. Too bad. It would have been interesting, for once, and a lot of the sequences last week make more sense in the afterlife.
- OR MAYBE EARTH IS HELL AFTER ALL?!
- I doubt I can do this scene-by-scene thing every week, but it was fun this week. Let me know what you think.