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'Rescue Me': Complexity and the city

June 14, 2007 | 10:04 am

Rescueme290 Something was lost in all the hubbub over “Rescue Me’s” third season—the one that included Tommy Gavin’s “rape” of his estranged wife Janet, Tommy’s own “date rape” courtesy of wildly unstable sometimes girlfriend Sheila, an extreme case of sibling rivalry that led to Tommy beating his brother to a pulp and a further exploration of one of the series’ favorite topics, homosexuality, via the young “probie” officer uncomfortably flirting with bisexuality.

Lost among all the button-pushing and FX-network-appropriate edginess was just how beautifully the show’s ensemble cast had gelled, how the writing had grown tighter and sharper and how proficient everyone involved had become with the complex mix of comedy and drama. The potential had always been there, but last season “Rescue Me” finally emerged as “Sex and the City” with a Y-chromosome and the occasional elaborate pyrotechnic sequence. (In case you’re wondering, that’s a good thing.)

Underneath the shock value, “Rescue Me” remains a show about male bonding and the tumultuous emotional lives of its specifically drawn characters. This week’s season premiere picked up right where last season left off. Not just with the big cliffhanger (more on that in a second), but with ladies’ man Franco (Daniel Sunjata) still serious about saintly Natalie (lovely guest star Sherri Saum), scene-stealing Lieutenant Lou (John Scurti) wracked with guilt over his sexual relationship with former nun Theresa (lovely guest star number two, Susan Misner) and perfectly matched dysfunctional couple Sean (Steven Pasquale) and Maggie (Tatum O’Neal) bickering over her addiction to porn.

Meanwhile, our beloved anti-hero Tommy (Denis Leary), last seen unconscious and trapped in a house fire with nutty Sheila (Callie Thorne), is back with Janet (Andrea Roth), playing conscientious daddy to a baby boy who may be his, or may be his dead brother’s, child. He’s also under investigation for possible insurance fraud over that house fire, which Sheila started in a rage while he was passed out.

As for Sheila, they made us wait an awfully long time to learn her fate, didn’t they? Given Tommy’s history of seeing dead people, I’m not sure anyone can even be sure about just what we saw in the episode’s final scene. (Her one line of dialogue, “We’ve got two million dollars on the line, and you are totally screwing this up,” certainly sounded like classic Sheila.)

The one thing safe to proclaim: this felt like just a taste of an inevitably wild season ahead.

This week Leary made it clear in an interview with the Times’ Scott Collins that there’s no apology necessary for Tommy’s behavior last season. And as a fan of all great drama, or great comedy, that dares to explore the darker corners of its characters’ souls, I have to agree. Don’t say you’re sorry Denis, just give us more.

-- Geoff Berkshire

(Photo courtesy FX)