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Illustration for article titled iRescue Me/i: Wheels
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Rescue Me will frequently follow up a dark, heavy hour (as last week’s exemplary “Torch” was) with a lightly plotted, goofy hour like this week’s “Wheels.” Funny as Rescue Me can be, these hours can’t help but feel like a bit of a comedown, though they’re probably structurally necessary so the show doesn’t get too bleak and abandon its comedy drama hodgepodge mission statement, it’s still a little strange to leave behind an hour where Tommy was talking to ghosts and burning himself and realizing that his armor is so thick nothing can penetrate it and follow it up with an hour that ends with Lou hanging comically from the side of a fire truck like something out of Keystone Kops. I imagine a lot of fans will call this the season’s worst so far, and while I don’t think that’s fair (I laughed at a lot of stuff in this episode), I can certainly see where the disappointment stems from. (Then again, I’m well known for never knowing what fans are going to think about anything, so grain of salt.)

As said, there’s plenty of fun stuff in “Wheels,” but the episode as a whole feels pretty disjointed. It bounces somewhat erratically from Franco’s debut in the ring to Sean’s recovery to Tommy’s relationship with Sheila to Lou’s relationship with Candy to a lengthy sequence where the guys visit last week’s cancer kids with stops along the way to check in on Black Shawn and Colleen’s relationship, Mike’s dreams for his band and the end of Damien’s firefighter training and impending status as the house’s probie. All of these elements individually were pretty good, but they didn’t add up to a whole. They didn’t even try to add up to a whole. Then again, you can coast when you’ve just done “Torch.” It buys a lot of good will.

Let’s start with the most problematic plotline: Franco went into the ring for the first time and handily won his fight (Lou and Needles trying to psych him up by depressing him was very funny), which was fine, but the show then went in for one of its standard, fairly typical looks at how gender roles between men and women can sometimes be more complex than they usually are and isn’t that interesting? Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great when Rescue Me explores a female character who isn’t an emasculating shrew, but that their other female characters tend to be either super macho or trying too hard to be masculine doesn’t speak well to these attempts. So, anyway, Franco’s new friend, who becomes his girlfriend (or at least sex partner), is a little masculine and shakes Colleen’s hand firmly. This, apparently, signifies that she’s a lesbian.

Obviously, part of the fun of Rescue Me is playing the characters’ expectations of the world against them, seeing how they react when confronted with new things beyond their range of understanding. So on that level, the guys reacting to Franco’s new lady acting like they’d expect a lesbian to act was potentially amusing. But the whole thing played as such a tired take on this old, old material (and the show didn’t seem terribly critical of the guys’ and Colleen’s observations – even though Franco took the girl to bed!)  that it didn’t add anything new to the conversation, even within the show itself. There’s a sometimes lazy tendency on Rescue Me to let stereotypes be stereotypes without really examining why those stereotypes exist in either an insightful or amusing way, and this was yet another case of that.

I’m glad Sean’s up again, though. Steven Pasquale is too valuable a member of the cast to have been sidelined in a hospital bed this long (though the storyline has been more than worth it to see Pasquale sing and to see the other guys’ reactions to his cancer). Finally having him share a scene with the other guys this week (after that funny gag where the heavy-set male stripper came in to perform for him) felt like a longer time in coming than it actually was. At the same time, I’m not sure I buy that he’d just blurt out how he got the money to pay for the surgery like that. I could imagine one of the other guys tripping him up in a lie and eventually cornering him so he has to admit, but he seemed too blasé about the whole thing. It was a curious choice for an otherwise enjoyable scene.

I also think I’d be more invested in the Lou and Candy storyline if I thought there was a chance in hell she had actually reformed. The show and actress Milena Govich play this character so close to the chest that it’s impossible to say if she’s really turned a corner, which makes it seem as though there’s no way she has and Lou is a dupe for believing in her at all. I get that Lou’s a sweet, easily bruised guy, the heart of a show full of tough guys who try to hide their hearts well behind their sleeves, and I get that he tends to fall into these things without caution, but it still seems like he’s being a little dumber than he actually would be in dealing with her. That said, the scene where Candy surprises Lou with a marriage proposal was fairly well-written (that moment when Lou says he had two impulses simultaneously is great), even if it seemed to tip the scales too firmly into Candy having something seriously wrong with her. (I just don’t buy that she’d scam Lou all over again. While it feels like something this show believes she would do, it also feels like too predictable of a plot twist.)

This all culminated in another scene where Tommy took the guys to visit the cancer kids at the hospital. Earlier, he had promised them he would bring the fire trucks by for them to see, getting Fienberg to acquiesce even though it was against policy, so now he and the guys brought one of the big trucks and a smaller vehicle over for the kids to look at. So far, so good. Tommy’s relationship with the cancer kids is breezily believable (and I like the way the other guys always seem to have plastered-on smiles when interacting with the kids), and I liked the way his talk with one of them called back to Sheila’s advice to always live in the present (in the middle of another depressingly shrewish Sheila scene), even if the whole speech felt a little overwritten.

This whole scene felt a little overwritten and undercooked, as though the show thought it would be a cool idea to see the guys interact with some deathly ill kids and then couldn’t figure out where to go from there. While seeing, say, Franco complain about his problems to a little girl (even if she reinforced the show’s earlier lesbian argument) was funny enough, having the kid Lou was hanging out with steal the truck felt both a little too obviously metaphorical (Lou letting a damaged person make away with something important to him – I wonder what THAT could represent) and a little too stupid, as though Lou had been replaced by someone with half his IQ. I also really don’t buy that this would ever actually happen, but I’m sure I’ll see a million links to stories of cancer-ridden kids with asshole parents who steal fire trucks in comments.

I realize it sounds like I really hated this episode, but I didn’t. I laughed at it quite a bit, even if the story development was a little weak. It’s just hard to have Rescue Me, when it raises its game, go back to what it normally does (and does pretty well). It’s like watching Albert Pujols hit grand slam after grand slam one night and then going back to see him be content with drawing lots of walks. You enjoy seeing the guy play, but you know he’s capable of better.

Grade: B

Stray observations:

  • I did like Damien’s little confrontation with Franco that led to Lou being upset that Damien stole his natural space to tell a one-liner. Funny stuff.
  • I’ve never noticed how fond this show is of long takes, of letting the actors just do their thing, as I have this season. That scene of Tommy talking to the cancer kid could have been something out of In Treatment or something.
  • “Conduit!” “Whore!”

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