There’s a moment almost at the end of “Mickey” that I suspect is going to drive hardcore Rescue Me fans a little nuts, but I really loved it. Sean Garrity, about to go under the knife and have surgery to remove his cancer-ridden kidney, trapped in a hospital room that is lit with hellish red, looks over at the nurse who’s preparing him …
And she begins to sing.
One of the great things about Rescue Me is how ambitiously it mixes tones, how easily it slips from black comedy to wacky shenanigans to bleak drama. It’s never afraid to try anything for a laugh or to give you a punch in the gut, and that means it’s always going to be, by its very nature, uneven, but it also means that it can do more audacious things than just about any other drama set in a similarly realistic milieu on TV. So while it will do things like spend long amounts of time on a Teddy subplot that’s not terribly funny, it also doesn’t seem too afraid to have Garrity burst into song in his dreams. Or to have the nurses looking over him dressed like angels and/or Valkyries. It’s just that kind of a show.
That, in the end, is why I stick with Rescue Me, even when it gets really bad. “Mickey” was kind of a mess of an episode, but I still liked it in the end because it found links between three of our firemen having increasingly dark nights of the soul and it had the guts to try something like that musical sequence (the song apparently with lyrics by series creator Peter Tolan). What’s more, the show knew exactly how to undercut the strangeness of the moment by having Terrence come in to interrupt Sean’s fantasy and then having Sean produce a shotgun to blast at him. It was just the right bit of acidic wit to close out what could have seemed kind of stupid, but for the show’s commitment to the idea.
In fact, that’s probably the one word that unites everything on Rescue Me: commitment. The show doesn’t work if it doesn’t utterly get behind its tonal shifts and its conviction to its material. Without that level of commitment, the show would be a lumpy mess or an ABC dramedy with the bouncy music or something. To that end, criticizing Rescue Me for being uneven kind of misses the point of the show. Life is uneven, a weird, jarring mixture of tonal shifts that don’t make a lot of sense until you can pull back and see the full picture.
So if Rescue Me is going to proudly flaunt its unevenness as something of a virtue, the least it can do is make episodes like “Mickey,” where the good stuff was good enough to make the bad stuff feel mostly incidental. Hell, even the bad stuff was laced through with some pretty terrific jokes and character beats, even if a lot of the wells the show is going to feel increasingly tired.
Start with Tommy, whose fall off the wagon has been brutally abrupt. In the past, though, when the show would observe Tommy behaving badly, it often seemed to be sort of on its side. There’s just no way you can portray the material here as endorsing Tommy’s return to alcoholism in any way. The show this season sees Tommy as a preening jerk, always talking about how the rules don’t apply to him, when they clearly, clearly do (if the rules apply to Mickey Mantle, as we were reminded at episode’s end, then they definitely apply to mere Tommy Gavin).
Tommy’s speech to the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, prompted by Mickey encouraging him to go up and tell everyone just why he was drinking again (since Tommy’s always one to call a bluff) was a great acting moment for Denis Leary and a great way for the show to remind us of just what a bastard this guy can be when he really sets his mind to it. The speech, punctuated with cuts to Mickey’s face, ever-growing in horror, or the disbelief of the guy Tommy sponsored, was a dark bath in the resentment Tommy feels toward everyone in his life, toward the way the world seems designed to reward the people that he will have to diligently rescue someday. Cue Mickey’s stunned frustration, the judgmentally shaking heads of everyone else at the meeting.
Tommy, strutting around New York in a Who T-shirt, was kind of a jerk to everyone tonight. As always, I’m not sure I need to see the guy get back together with Janet and Sheila, but both sequences were well-done, as Janet lured him back, only to be interrupted by Needles rapping on the window (Adam Ferrara’s obvious glee at playing this moment carried through), and Sheila shoved Tommy away for breaking her one rule, the two constantly interrupted by a cable guy Sheila didn’t want to shoo away (another funny sequence). I’m willing to go along with these storylines if they do funny stuff in them, so I was OK with both tonight.
I’m less certain on the neverending Black Shawn and Colleen story, where the two clearly want to be together but Shawn’s fear at just how experienced his girlfriend is (and at Tommy finding out) has resulted in only a handful of story beats to be played over and over and over. Again, however, this was almost salvaged tonight by the funny sequence of Tommy taking the hose to Black Shawn in the shower and the resulting dialogue about how you never hose down a black man and Birmingham, Alabama (“I was there!” Tommy crows).
Finally, there’s Lou. As Sean went in to surgery and Tommy dove even deeper into the drink, Lou fished the phone number of the girl who stole all the money from him in season two out of the trash. She was begging with him to help her out, to take her in, but he’s been resisting, trying to prove to Tommy that he won’t fold like a card table when she puts the pressure on. But here we are, reliable, dependable old Lou, opening himself up to get hurt again, and perhaps in exactly the same way as last time. I like John Scurti so much that I don’t mind watching him do these storylines, but I’m hopeful the show will find some new beats to play here instead of just doing exactly what it did before, as it seems to be.
But that’s the nature of Rescue Me. Some of it makes you guffaw, some of it makes you cringe, and some of it makes you marvel at how terrific it can be. It’s a show that doesn’t do anything in half-measures, and that takes all the guts in the world.
- Franco is shoehorned into yet another meaningless sideplot, this one about some woman he meets at the boxing ring and she runs a garage and … yawn.
- I’m still not sure what Teddy has to do with anything, and I’m beginning to feel like nothing could redeem this storyline for me in the end.
- Finally, did Sean telling Needles about his surgery open himself up for removal from the crew? I suspect not, since only Needles and Lou know and the insurance company doesn’t, but Needles wouldn’t be the guy I’d tell, even if I had to.