TV Review - Rescue Me: Series Finale

Denis Leary stars for the last time as Tommy Gavin, a New York firefighter who served on September 11, 2001. Tommy survived the terrorist attack, but people he loved, fellow firefighters, men who were his family, died. Saying he suffered from survivor's guilt would be an understatement. Tommy has been haunted by guilt for nearly a decade.

He's not just been haunted by guilt. Tommy has literally seen and talked to the ghosts of dead firefighters and relatives. They were less ghosts and more figments of his imagination, fragments of his psyche who often said the things he needed to hear, and usually that was the brutal honesty of whatever Tommy was going through.

Most of the time, what Tommy was going through was his alcoholism. Drinking was a problem that Tommy had for the course of this TV series, most often to great comedic effect. This was something the show did well. It balanced dark material like 9/11 and alcoholism with some really, raunchy comedy.

One thing that bothered me though was both times that Leary was nominated for an Emmy, he was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor, but he was nominated in the "Drama" category. Logically, he should have been nominated in the "Comedy" category. I laughed consistently in almost every episode, so I was confused by the miscategorization in 2006 and in 2007.

Yet, Leary who was a stand-up comic did have some great dramatic moments in this show. While I think that Leary is probably the only guy who could have played this character, I doubted his acting choices in a lot of instances, but over the years I accepted that's who his character was, and I stopped complaining.

All that being said, what Leary does in the opening of this series finale is very compelling, and it sets up the central question that pervades this last episode. Will Tommy quit being a firefighter? After seven seasons, Tommy has seen so much loss, so many deaths, so many people hurt. It would only be natural for him finally to ask if it's time for him to walk away from the firehouse, to leave Truck 62?

And, it's not just him, but also his fellow firefighters, the ones who are still alive. They ask that question of themselves. Whether Tommy will retire and focus on his family is the key concern and for a little bit Tommy tries to be domestic, a Mr. Mom of sorts. This leads to a very hilarious moment where Tommy takes his son to a playground.

It's there that he discovers what the world is like outside of the firehouse, which is in many ways a reflection of the culture at large. Men are supposed to suppress any kind of testosterone-fueled urges or for that matter any kind of urge to do anything manly, even something as benign as watching football. Men are supposed to share any and everything and in fact ownership on the playground becomes a quasi-communist thing. Men are supposed to suppress any urge to swear, and not even to avoid the obvious four-letter curse words but not to say "penis" or heaven-forbid "vagina."

For Tommy, this is not the world in which he's comfortable. He's comfortable in a world where danger is a constant, where death is constantly following you and could tap you on the shoulder, and where you might turn around and find your best friend is burned to a crisp. For Tommy, he lives in a world where worrying whether a child hears the word "vagina" is the least of one's worries. In fact, it's not even a worry at all.

Let it be known though that this final episode isn't a deep, existential crisis or some great psychological struggle. The decision that Tommy has to make is essentially a foregone conclusion. Leary and Peter Tolan, the co-writer and director, merely frame it in a serious way as to pay respects to the people they're portraying and because this episode airs just a few days before this country observes the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The majority of this episode is pretty funny and an enjoyable ride. The comedy starts off in familiar territory with four of the firefighters sitting in the break room joking with each other. One would think that the laughs would end there being that the next scene with them together is in a car on their way to a funeral.

But, no! Not since Frank Oz's Death at a Funeral have I seen such hilarity surrounding people performing obsequies. Like in that 2007 film, the worst thing that could happen in a wake does happen here. Except, it's not the viewing before the interment. It's the spreading of the ashes.

A lot of credit has to be given to the four guys who really sell that hilarity in the spreading of the ashes. Daniel Sunjata who plays Franco, Steven Pasquale who plays Sean Garrity, Michael Lombardi who plays Mike, and Larenz Tate who plays "Black Shawn," all these guys are truly like brothers, a group of guys that work extremely well together not unlike The Three Stooges, only here they're the Four Stooges.

There was a comraderie, a fraternity, and a love between these men that was ever-present, even when they were bashing each other. Over the course of seven seasons, those bashings, mostly verbal bashings have been some of the most brilliant, comedic writing on TV. Besides the snappy one-liners, there is one really great visual and physical gag that the guys share. Another at the end similarly involves something coming out of a person's body.

But, considering everything, I have to admit that this was a perfect end to this series.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.
Originally Aired: September 7, 2011.
Available on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.
On DVD on September 13, 2011.


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