Plot: Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) had faced down countless fires, lost brothers in arms, and witnessed horrific events, but even he wasn’t prepared for the terrors of 9/11 and he hasn’t been the same since. He lost several of his peers from the firehouse, including his cousin and best friend and while three years have passed, his life is still in ruins and he struggles to cope. His marriage has fallen apart and he is now separated, but he tries to win his wife Janet (Andrea Roth) back and spend time with his kids, though she has moved on and has a new boyfriend. Gavin is also haunted by the ghosts of his past, as he sees visions of those he has lost over the years, with his cousin as the most frequent hallucination. Meanwhile the the firehouse, he continues to risk his life and battle blazes alongside his brothers, all of whom have their own inner turmoils, some of which are again linked to 9/11’s horrors.
Entertainment Value: Rescue Me is a dark, intense drama that explores some tough subjects and pulls no punches, which should be no surprise, given that Denis Leary is one of the central creative partners. This is not a safe, sanitized look at the stresses involved in fighting fires, as it is shown as a brutal, dangerous profession, with an immense toll on those involved. The mental and physical consequences are explored in various threads with numerous characters, so it doesn’t gloss over the risks at hand or how the work can impact the personal lives of the firefighters. Of course, things are dialed up and even the more grounded characters have drama filled lives, so it feels like a more masculine, grittier soap opera. Some of the stories are over the top, but that is to be expected and even when this is the case, the threads are interesting or at least fun to watch. I can see how some might not be able to connect with Leary’s character, as he is a total asshole, but you don’t need to like Tommy Gavin to appreciate Rescue Me, as there’s so much more going on. His stories are at the center of the show, but every episode has several other narratives in motion, so even if one of them doesn’t hold your attention, one of the others likely will. The show also takes advantage of cable’s most lenient content restrictions, so the stories can go pretty dark, deal with sensitive topics, and have creative freedom with language and sexual content. I think the show had a good run and supplies a lot of interesting stories, as well as a larger arc around Leary that makes the series easy to recommend.
Rescue Me had a considerable run on cable television, with seven seasons and almost nearly one hundred episodes, so it is a sizable series. As is often the case with shows that have a long duration like this, some of the seasons and stories are better than others, but that is unavoidable. At ninety-three episodes, some are bound to dip a little or take a risk that doesn’t pay off, but the good outweighs the bad here, without question. I think the show peaks around the fifth season, but most of the content that leads to that point is rock solid and the earlier seasons build the foundation. I do think Rescue Me tapers off at the end and doesn’t provide the kind of sendoff fans might have hoped for, but ending a long running, multi-thread series is tough to do, especially with so many balls in the air and stories to cover. Even so, overall the series is quite good and this is certainly a cut above the average television show. Leary is an ideal choice for the gruff, acidic Gavin, as he has played that kind of role before and his comic style is pretty much rooted in that hard living, cynical persona. The supporting cast is impressive as well however, with Dean Winters, Andrea Roth, Callie Thorne, Michael Lombardi, Steven Pasquale, and Daniel Sunjuata, while guest stars show up at times for shorter story arcs, like Gina Gershon, Tatum O’Neal, and Larenz Tate.
The Disc: Mill Creek has released Rescue Me on Blu-ray, in a box set that houses all 93 episodes presented in high definition. The show looks better than ever, even better than when it was first broadcast, so fans should appreciate that. The image is crystal clear and razor sharp, with a considerable uptick in detail and depth, with even the smallest of textures visible now. The colors are natural and bright, while contrast is accurate and never obscures detail in the least. I think Mill Creek has done some terrific work, as Rescue Me looks great in this collection. This set also includes the extras from the previous DVD releases, so we have several behind the scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, blooper reels, and some stories from real life firefighters, as well as select audio commentary from Denis Leary and Peter Tolan.