It takes a special kind of courage to run into a burning building.
Every instinct we have tells us to run away from the smoke and heat and fire. But firemen ignore these impulses and dive into the inferno anyway, putting their lives at risk to rescue others. Many people consider firefighters true heroes, and with good reason.
But heroes or not, firefighters are real people too, with real problems. And sometimes they're the ones who need to be rescued.
FX's long-running Rescue Me takes viewers through the doors of Ladder 62/Engine 99 Firehouse in New York City, delving deeply into the lives of its imperfect heroes. All of them have issues, but no one has more than Tommy Gavin, a firefighter with crimson hair, a combustible temper and a blazing addiction to alcohol.
Tommy's the antihero who makes Rescue Me tick. While he'll jump into that blaze without a second thought—or sometimes a first, for that matter—he's not nearly so decisive in other areas of his life. Season after season he bounces between lovers (his ex-wife, Janet, and his dead partner's widow, Sheila, are favorite bedmates) and has fallen off the wagon more often than a load of unsecured bowling balls. He can't even let the dead rest in peace: He's frequently visited by Jimmy, his partner and best friend who died on 9/11, and Connor, Tommy's son killed by a drunk driver.
Oh, did I not yet mention that Rescue Me is also a comedy?
It's the brainchild of surly comedian Denis Leary (who plays Tommy) and writer Peter Nolan (who penned Analyze This and America's Sweethearts). And it can be funny. It can be incisive. But very often it's as caustic and foul as its star's offscreen monologues. Many of the jokes revolve around sex, masturbation and the male anatomy. Sometimes viewers see noisy, graphic depictions of sex (though without explicit nudity). Characters regularly utter all but the very harshest profanities (the s-word is a favorite), and abuse the names of both Jesus and God, often pairing the latter with "d‑‑n." The violence and gore can be extreme as well. And, of course, given the show's main themes, alcohol makes an appearance in nearly every episode: Sometimes it's merely a cameo. At others, it's the main player. Sometimes it's used to instruct. At others, not so much.
When Leary was asked by the folks at givememyremote.com whether the network's censors have ever asked him to ratchet the content down a notch or two, he replied, "No, FX is absolutely the best group of people I have ever worked with. All they do is ask us to push the envelope even further."
At one point, Tommy sits down with a television news crew to talk about what happened on 9/11, when so many of his friends lost their lives. He's asked, sincerely, what he'd change about that day—what he'd do to make the ending to 9/11 a little happier. Tommy waits a moment before answering. Then he says, "There are no happy endings."
Tommy is a tragic figure, a self-destructive, sympathetically rendered cad. We understand that he's in dire need of rescue. But ensconced as he is in his envelope-rending world, rescue is slow in coming. Too slow.
Tommy rescues Kelly from a date and takes her home. Kelly says that she'll need to get a new set of breasts once her cancer treatment's done, admitting she obsesses over other women's. Then, suddenly, she asks Tommy if he believes in God. She talks about her own unbelief: How she was raised in the church but left it after her daughter died, not satisfied with the priest's insistence that her death was a "mystery." Tommy says he does believe in something … given the fact that dead family and friends visit him when he's drinking. He adds that their presence is "comforting" and speculates as to where they might live.
Kelly says it can't be limbo: "They cancelled limbo. And purgatory. And sex with little boys. All the fun stuff."
It's suggested that one firefighter uses the restroom to masturbate. Tommy fantasizes about crashing into a bookstore window and lighting books on fire. Kelly drinks a lot and says she's going to smoke some weed before going to sleep. Mike, a gay firefighter, helps Colleen with her wedding plans. Characters blurt out the s-word nearly 30 times, along with "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "a‑‑," "t-ts," "f-g" and several vulgar references to testicles. God's and Jesus' names are abused.