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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rescue Me: "Cowboy"

Illustration for article titled Rescue Me: "Cowboy"
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Rescue Me is tossing off potential final season plotlines so quickly that I'm almost starting to wonder if it's joking with us. One week, Tommy is trying to quit drinking and help his daughter do the same, and then after some dramatic moments, he's accomplished it. The next week, the firehouse is closed completely offscreen, and then, the guys charge into a burning school and save a bunch of kids, and the city reopens the firehouse, before anyone involved has to consider their lives without fighting fires or (best case scenario) without each other as they're shipped off to various houses. The story development on the show has always been pretty messy, but it's been positively all over the place this season, as the show lurches toward an end point that will come next summer. At this point, I'm mostly watching because I still enjoy the characters, and I want to see how everything ends up for them, but this season (or half-season, technically) has had a feeling of marking time before the good stuff starts.

Let's start with this evening's most tiresome development. Tommy goes over to Sheila's place to let her know that it's all over. He's made up with Janet. They're going to give their marriage another shot. After a night of good sex, he gets up early to make her breakfast, and she's amenable to this sort of reconciliation on one term: He cuts Sheila out of his life. Entirely. Now, this is Rescue Me. It's a show about self-destructive people. So, obviously, Tommy was going to sleep with Sheila again before the end of the episode, but it was like the show just couldn't restrain itself. It has been to this well so many times that the brave thing to do would have been to have Tommy manage to resist Sheila's clear temptations when he went over to her house to tell her it was through.

Instead, she told him about how much better Mickey was at kissing and loving and everything else that Tommy had tried to do with her and failed. This was actually a pretty good scene. It might have put a nice cap on the Tommy and Sheila relationship that was for the bulk of the series and then sent them off toward a new status quo as the series reached its ending moments. It might have felt, in other words, like progress. The biggest problem with Rescue Me is that it has both a lack of character progression and a lack of plot progression. Most shows keep their characters pretty much the same, but they use the plot to examine new facets of these people over time. This all turns into something like a character arc. Rescue Me, however, has mostly used a long series of character stories to tell us that the world is an awful place and these men are assholes again and again and again. It gets wearing.

So, anyway, of course Tommy takes Sheila's statement as a sort of challenge. Of course he goes over and kisses her roughly. Of course she pushes him away and he just has to try again. Of course she slaps him after that next try. Of course they collapse onto the couch then and begin the opening parts of having sex, him removing her clothes, their lips locked together. (It's here I should point out that this all feels disturbingly like season three's hate sex/rape, a series lowpoint.) And of course Mickey walks in in the middle of everything and sees this, then storms out. I'm honestly having trouble remembering a time when the Janet/Tommy/Sheila triangle felt vital. I'm sure it did way back in season one or something, but at this point, it feels like the show's most tired element, and having the show turn to it for yet another big cliffhanger (because Mickey immediately goes to tell Janet) feels cheap.

I wouldn't mind if Rescue Me just abandoned long-form storytelling altogether and told a series of shaggy dog stories about a bunch of guys who work and hang out together in a firehouse. I wouldn't mind that at all. And there were stories in tonight's episode that lived up to this and mostly entertained. Mike and Sean taking their friend around to see all of the people he saved was a nice, bleakly comic look at the cost of being someone who saves lives, and it had an unexpectedly poignant ending moment when the guy died while he was in the car with them. Similarly, I enjoyed watching Damien slowly learn about the ways of love from first Franco and then his girlfriend (and I appreciated the callback to when his teacher was messing around with him). Hell, even the abrupt reopening of the firehouse - while completely insulting on a story level - was at least an excuse to get the guys hanging out together again, and the sequence where Damien rescued the baby was one of the better firefighting sequences the show has pulled out in a while.

But the series feints so often toward having big, continuing storylines that it becomes obvious that that's one of the things the show's writers really would like to pull off. And yet, for the most part, they're incapable of doing so. This was fine in the early days of the show because its voice and characters were so fresh, intriguing, and inviting that we couldn't help but get sucked along for the ride. But as the show has gone on and struggled more and more for profundity, the bad story development has held it back time and again. It's pushing toward saying something about self-destruction and the ways that we hold each other back, but it often seems content to get halfway there and lean back on its generally strong sense of writing scenes where guys just hang out and shoot the shit.


This season, while enjoyable in places, has been perhaps the worst offender in this regard. Tommy died until he was better again, and the house was closed until it was open again. Colleen had a drinking problem until she didn't. Franco and Janet were fighting an attraction until they weren't. There's no sense of cohesion, of things gradually picking up steam toward a conclusion or climax or anything. That's not a bad way to build a show. Life is full of anticlimaxes. But even The Sopranos - the classic show with the least story cohesion - spent most of its run building a kind of character cohesion, people that grew and developed over time. Rescue Me can't even give us that. It's stuck in the same old stories, as though it were 2003 still and it was only us that moved on.

Stray observations:

  • Seriously, why even close the firehouse? Why do any of this stuff? If you want to make an hourlong comedy about the guys who work at a firehouse and do crazy stuff, just do that.
  • I did like Franco and Black Shawn trying to tell Damien what he was supposed to say to his girlfriend. I also liked his girlfriend recognizing immediately that he was telling her a speech he'd rehearsed. I haven't looked up who the actress is that plays this girl, but she's a lot of fun, and I hope she resurfaces somewhere else.
  • "Garrity, get rid of the porn cooler."