Networks suck. They do. Network TV is dead to me. Let's just soak the “big three” in kerosene and drop a match. We'll collect the insurance and start a new life in the fertile realm of basic cable. Think about it. When's the last time a new network TV show scored critical raves, high audience ratings and an Emmy or two? Now, think about all the TV shows you talk about around the water cooler at work. I'm guessing 9 out of ten are cable TV shows.
So it's no surprise that the hottest show of the summer (pun intended) is FX's new firefighter drama/comedy “Rescue Me.” The show is the work of actor/comedian Dennis Leary. Dennis is one of those people I think hasn't had a very fair shake in the entertainment industry. He's one of the sharpest comedians in America. And yet, his personality just hasn't translated to successful movies and television. He can be a thorny presence, but he's got the kind of edge that Eddie Murphy lost two decades ago when he sold his soul to Disney.
Leary has long been committed to the world of firefighting (he even started a charity to help provide equipment to underfunded fire stations and to support families of firefighters who have perished or been injured in the line of duty). It's actually surprising it's taken him this long to get around to tackling the subject.
Leary stars as Tommy Gavin, a stressed-out veteran of FDNY's Engine Company 62. That particular station house paid a heavy toll on September 11, when four members were killed, including Tommy's cousin. (Leary's real-life cousin was, in fact, a firefighter who was killed in the line of duty.) Angry, embittered and forced into a trial separation with his wife, Tommy's current life seems to be falling apart.
The show's title is a clever double-sided coin. Though the show does feature plenty of typical firefighter action, it is the firefighters themselves in the most need of rescue. By the end of the first episode, Tommy has fallen off the wagon and begun spying on his wife and her new boyfriend.
Though the show is classified as a drama, Leary's bitter sense of black humor is sprinkled throughout. Tommy is haunted (quite literally it would seem) by the ghosts of people he has “failed” to save. There's the boy who died from burns, the little girl who expired from smoke inhalation, and--most importantly--there are the co-workers who were killed in the World Trade Center collapse. Though they're only figments of Tommy's guilty conscience, they appear at crucial moments to both council and pester our protagonist.
The show's bitter edge and salty language make it look quite a bit like “The Sopranos” (a show to which it has been favorably compared). The intriguing mix of raw drama, workplace camaraderie and dark comedy, however, makes it feel quite a bit more like the early days of “Hill Street Blues.” And when's the last time you saw a show as good as “Hill Street Blues” on network TV?