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'Rescue Me': Whom are you trying to fool?

August 2, 2007 | 11:16 am

Last season on "Rescue Me," a rough sex scene between Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) and his estranged wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), left some viewers outraged and spurred a controversy over whether the act constituted rape or not.Rescueme_janet_baby_300_2

This week's episode seems to be aiming for a similar response by ending on an absurd, outrageous cliffhanger: Tommy holding a baby out over a river below, pondering whether to drop the child in. That baby, by the way, is either his or his brother's son with Janet (most likely his brother's, but no one knows for sure). But it isn't the paternity that placed him in that situation.

The convoluted soap opera dramatics that led Tommy to that place would baffle anyone who's not a regular viewer, but they are already understood by those who are. So let's deal with the creative decision to end the episode that way.

I think it's a load of crap.

Clearly Tommy is not going to kill the baby. If he does, there's no turning back. Far more than last season's "rape" (which was complicated, character-driven and in keeping with Tommy and Janet's well-established rocky relationship), deliberately killing a child would forever destroy any interest we could have in the character. Tommy may be royally messed up, but he's not psycho or a completely crazy. Not even Tony Soprano ever committed a sin on that level.

So why tease us with it? Why taunt loyal viewers with a closing shot that screams, "Hey, you know we like pushing the envelope. Do you think we're crazy enough to do this!?!" (To further set the audience up, the episode opened with a spectacular fire rescue sequence that resulted in the deaths of seven children ... so dead babies were something of a "theme" for the hour.)

It's one thing to show Tommy in a desperate situation. It's another to use that situation to try to get viewers to tune in next week, or worse, to get people in the media to write about those nutty things they do on "Rescue Me" (yes, I'm guilty, but I'm supposed to write about this show every week).

Last week the always-entertaining Catholic League launched a protest against the show citing anti-Catholic sentiments expressed by Tommy and a comic scene featuring a former nun having sex while wearing a habit. That's the kind of controversy that honors the show and makes the protesters look foolish. The nun isn't one of the show's greatest creations, but she's so exaggerated it's pointless to be offended, and Tommy's history as a lapsed Catholic has never been anything less than a valid and honest dramatic portrayal.

But this week's cliffhanger shows what happens when that kind of button-pushing goes too far in the wrong direction. The result has the nasty feeling of disdain for the audience.

Do the show's powers that be really think we're stupid enough to buy this "will-he-or-won't-he" scenario? And if they do, why are we watching?

-- Geoff Berkshire