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`Rescue Me': There are such unfortunates

August 3, 2010 | 11:05 pm


The best and the worst of "Rescue Me" was on display in Tuesday night's episode. Fortunately, the good stuff was in the first half-hour of the show because if it had been the other way around, I would've bailed out on it and you would be staring at a blank screen right now.

Coming off last week's incredible hour where Denis Leary's Tommy Gavin gets loaded with his daughter Colleen and proceeds to wreak havoc on just about all five boroughs, this week's episode opens with our hero finally trying some brutal honesty.

"I remember everything I said and did last night ... it sucks," Tommy says of his life without booze.

While Tommy is counting days again, his daughter Colleen is not interested in climbing any steps. She's still out there getting hammered. Even spending a night passed out on a beach in an alcoholic stupor isn't a reality check for her.

"She young, dumb, and a Gavin," explains her mother, Janet.

Tommy heads off to the fire house and the first call of the day may end up being his last. He and the crew are called to a car crash in which a young girl was killed by her drunken sister, who escaped unscathed. Tommy tries to save the girl, who was clearly dead before they arrived on scene. He's shaken up, thinking the girls could be his daughters. When the squad gets another call, Tommy can't get out of his chair to join his comrades on the truck.

"It's like I'm stuck in cement here."

Needles, played by the superb Adam Ferrara, tries to cajole Tommy into getting on the truck, even reminding him that while that girl may be gone, his godson Damien is still around and on that truck with the rest of the team. Nothing works though, and Needles eventually tells Tommy that should his manhood be lying around, he'll staple it back on him.

Fortunately, it turns out to be a false alarm. But Tommy's absence is noticed by the rest of the crew. Franco, whose flirtation with Janet is already causing tensions between he and Tommy, starts badmouthing Tommy. Black Shawn steps up to defend Tommy, and he and Franco start trading blows.

Rather than breaking it up, Lou lets them fight it out. Things are going along fine until the cops show up and an even bigger fight is on the horizon. Fortunately, Needles arrives and makes peace between New York's finest and bravest.

Too bad FX couldn't have ended the episode right there. Tommy's second-guessing his career and Franco and Black Shawn going at it was top notch. Unfortunately, the rest of the show goes off the deep end and never recovers. After a quick chat with Father Phil about his fears, Tommy goes to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with his cousin Mick. Once again viewers are treated to Leary and co-creator Peter Tolan's contempt for AA.

While television and movies rarely capture what recovery is all about as the need to create drama overwhelms the idea of accuracy, Leary and Tolan always seem to go out of their to create the most outlandish version of AA ever.

The meeting Mick takes Tommy to is chaired by Tommy's sister Maggie. Just a few minutes into it, Uncle Teddy shows up hammered. He's dragging Tommy's daughter Colleen (also hammered) to the meeting and throws her in a chair. Both have drinks in their hand and before too long the Gavin clan has taken over the meeting and is turning it into a professional wrestling match. That's not quite how it works, but for Tolan and Leary it's par for the course. Hope no one watching "Rescue Me" really thinks their portrayal of AA has any basis in reality.

Unsuccessful at persuading Colleen to stop drinking (big surprise there), Tommy kicks it up to notch and drags her to Father Phil's church and proceeds to give her a baptism in booze, almost drowning her in the process while the good father tries to recall what the priest in "The Godfather" said while they were baptizing Michael Corleone's nephew. A nun watching Tommy perform his 151-proof baptism calls the police and Tommy is led away by the cops. Too bad the police couldn't also lead away the writers and producers who came up with that scene.

As compelling as "Rescue Me" is (and at the risk of facing the wrath of Tolan, who has created some of the best television ever), last night's episode seemed designed for Leary, Lennie Clark and Tatum O'Neil to chew up scenery as if it was the last meal they were ever going to have. Hope it filled them up because it left me with indigestion.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Tommy Gavin gets ready to give his daughter Colleen a 150-proof baptism on "Rescue Me." Credit: FX.

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