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Rescue Me (Box Set)

Comedy series singles out heroes in personal crises

By Kevin Spurgaitis

Created by Denis Leary and Peter Tolan,
starring Denis Leary, Andrea Roth, John Scurti,
Susan Sarandon and Tatum O’Neal

When it premiered in 2004, Rescue Me garnered praise for its frank talk about family, depression, alcoholism, homophobia and the aftermath of 9/11. The critically acclaimed series focuses on the professional and personal lives of New York City firefighters, in particular Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary), an ill-tempered, self-destructive character whose life is filled with torment. He’s the guy his fellow firefighters want with them when they launch themselves into a burning building. But Tommy continually struggles with alcohol and the breakup of his Irish-Catholic family. And despite making baby steps toward redemption, he’s prone to reversals of fortune along the way.

In Season Two, Tommy and his wife, Janet, reconcile for a time until their only son, Connor, is killed by a drunk driver. That episode leaves Tommy in a crisis of faith and later in search of a personal Jesus. It’s hard-going, though, even with the help of his cousin and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Father Mickey Gavin (Robert John Burke).

With the show set in New York City, there’s no ignoring the terrorist attacks of 2001. This is the point. People, not just firefighters and police, are still dealing with 9/11, including many who suffer from survivor’s guilt. Tommy, most of all, is haunted by spectres of self-reproach: mysterious black figures and what he believes are the ghosts of his late cousin and fellow firefighter, Jimmy Keefe, and other 9/11 victims he couldn’t save.

Centred around the morally ambiguous Tommy and his testosterone-fuelled crew at 62 Firehouse, Rescue Me doesn’t care if it offends. Its humour is bleak, its tone sometimes colourful and its insight into melodramatic male pain sharp-witted. But for all its rough edges, the series tastefully draws attention to everyday heroes trying desperately to move on without forgetting what they’ve learned and lost.

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