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'Rescue Me': S.O.S.

September 6, 2007 | 10:35 am


So here we are. The second-to-last episode in the fourth season of "Rescue Me" has aired. And I'm speechless. Slightly confused. Maybe even a little bit depressed.

What went so wrong? How did this scrappy, frequently underappreciated little show turn into such a rambling mess? The storylines this season were alternately dull (Janet's depression; Tommy hates his daughter's boyfriend), ridiculous (the nympho nun), tiresome (every woman Tommy meets wants to sleep with him; Sheila's still crazy), extraneous (Uncle Teddy) and insulting (Tommy "seriously" considers killing the new baby). And all of them were drastically undercooked. I'm still waiting for the show to do something interesting with the new probie, "Black Sean" (Larenz Tate), and there's only one episode left.

Just last season, "Rescue Me" was riding high with smart arcs for great guest stars (Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon), a credible bout of sibling rivalry (Tommy and his dearly departed brother, Johnny), fresh and funny romantic developments (Franco fell in love, and Sean wooed Maggie) and provocative storylines (the infamous "rape").

This season we've endured countless scenes of the guys playing hockey. Just to mix it up, they played basketball.

There were some funny highlights early on (the quick collapse of Sean and Maggie's marriage, the "spank bank" discussion) and a shocking ending for a regular cast member. Daniel Sunjata still brings his A-game to Franco's every word, and the rest of the cast has had its (select) moments.

But week after week, the lack of forward momentum in this season's storytelling became clear. And each new episode felt more disappointing than the last.

It wouldn't matter if it didn't feel like such a loss. "Rescue Me" remains in the top tier of TV dramas when it comes to quality. Maybe previous seasons have raised my expectations too high, but it hurts to watch a show that (even at its worst) was always so excitingly unpredictable become boring.

We've still got one episode to go, and I hope it's a knockout. But I also hope the producers (and by that I mean Denis Leary and Peter Tolan) are already dreaming up some truly fresh ideas for next season. If I believed they might be open to ideas, I'd suggest less Tommy hero worship and more interplay among the supporting cast. But I'll trust them to find their own solutions.

The excellent ensemble deserves better, and so do the loyal fans.

-- Geoff Berkshire

(Photo courtesy FX)