Thursday, 4 March 2010

Hell on Wheels

Thanks to garbage UK TV scheduling, I’m currently in the midst of enjoying the sublime fifth season of the fantastic Rescue Me on Region 1 DVD.

For some inane reason, after showing the first three seasons, Sky1 inexplicably dropped Rescue Me and even more inexplicably: no one else picked it up – not even FX who make the fucking show in the US!

So I’ve had to rely on imported DVDs to get my fix for the past two seasons, and although the show seemed to lose its way a little and season 4 wasn’t Rescue Me’s finest hour, I can say almost unequivocally that season 5 could be the best season the show has produced to date.

Funnier than ever and, at times, darker than ever, Season 5 has had me laughing harder and longer than most pure comedies out there and Rescue Me is by no means pure comedy, this is one of the blackest shows on TV and can amp up the tension to near 24 levels when it wants.

The writer’s strike threw a spanner in the works for the show’s plans the other year but boy did they come back with a vengeance for season 5, with almost twice as many episodes as previous years and a renewed focus and vigour that has made the show essential viewing once again.

Upon its debut, the promos we got over in the UK, wrongly, made it seem as though Rescue Me was going to be about the aftermath of 9/11, and although the considerable shadow of that fateful day hangs over the crew of 62 Truck and set in motion many of the events that have underpinned the series, this is a show about so much more than dealing with September 11th.

The first three seasons were seriously good, thirteen episodes a season meant that the show moved at a blistering pace at times, main characters died, the crew seemed to suffer personal tragedy after tragedy and the domestic squabbles both at home and between the ‘brothers’ in the firehouse were never-ending, all the while the crew battled uncontrollable blazes across New York.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that all that would make the show a tough watch, and yes, at times Rescue Me can plumb to some pretty shocking depths, but for the most part this is one of the sharpest, funniest shows on TV at the moment.

The only show I can think of that can even be considered a peer to Rescue Me is the majestic Californication. Both shows seamlessly transition between tear-jerking moments, intense drama filled with personal anguish and laugh out loud moments of comedy.

Dialogue-wise, there is no disputing that Rescue Me and Californication are the best scripted shows on television. The banter and one-liners between these characters is so good it really is hard to believe that they are actually scripted, although no one is that quick-witted in real life.

Enough about the show in general though, the main focus of this piece is season 5 which I am about to complete, with three episodes remaining.

Season 4’s drop in quality can be attributed to the interference of the impossibly annoying (but understandably necessary) writer’s strike that ruined TV for not only months but years and to the fact that Tommy Gavin stopped drinking.

Denis Leary’s Tommy soon hit the bottle again as season 5 progressed and things have been a lot more interesting ever since. When Tommy is sober he doesn’t see ghosts so that meant we have been deprived of his dead cousin and brother of late (the brilliant James McCaffrey and Dean Winters respectively) but his return to the bottle has meant we’ve ever had plenty of Jimmy and Johnny this year, albeit in their ghostly form.

It’s been almost impossible to avoid spoilers given how long ago this season aired Stateside so I know that Tommy’s return to drinking, more specifically the fact that he also got his extended family drinking again, does eventually have dire consequences; which is good, because up to where I am in the season his blatant alcoholism seems to have made everyone happy again.

Rescue Me is by no means the Tommy Gavin show though, sure Leary’s character is asked to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to what has to be the most dysfunctional extended family on TV and the unimaginable pain and torment this man has suffered through his losses, but Rescue Me has a ridiculously good cast and has shaped some brilliantly observed and well-developed characters over its five seasons to date.

While Franco and Mike haven’t really had much to do this year (boxing and singing respectively) Garrity has become the show’s most valuable supporting player.

Garrity’s illness gave him the chance to be seen as much more than comic relief to the Rescue Me audience. Sure, he’s still dumb as a box of rocks, but Steven Pasquale has added another dimension to Sean this season.

The song and dance numbers he was dreaming about were a brilliant, if somewhat bizarre interlude to the episodes where he had nothing more to do than lie in a hospital bed and Pasquale showed off a surprisingly good singing voice.

Since his recovery, Sean has become somewhat of an asshole but in a good way, previously walked all over by everyone around him and often too stupid to realise, the new selfish Sean is finally taking care of himself and it’s been great to see.

That’s not to say that Garrity has stopped with the idiocy, as his orange dick proved (more on that later).

Lou has also stepped up big time this season, his banter with Tommy has always been one of the show’s highlights but for season five this really has been off the charts.

He and Tommy living together and competing over a woman and then clashing over Lou’s relationship with a different woman gave John Scurti something meaty to sink his teeth into rather than just verbally sparring with his old friend Leary.

That said, Leary and Scurti’s friendship off screen is clearly visible on screen, with Lou and Tommy squabbling like brothers most of the time – any time these two are in a scene together it usually strikes gold.

The real revelation this season for me though has been Michael Zegen as Damien. Recurring in previous years as Tommy’s nephew and godson, his decision to become a fireman coupled with his Mother’s over-protectiveness led to him being stationed with our heroes at 62 truck, which meant we have seen a great deal more of him this season and he has fit in perfectly.

With a plethora of great one liners, Damien has been involved in some of the season’s (at least the second half) funniest moments – his discussion with Mike about what a ‘hot lunch’ is had me almost laughing myself into a hernia and would have undoubtedly been the funniest moment of the season if not for the episode entitled ‘Carrot’.

If the title of the episode didn’t give it away, then the episode featured Garrity showing Mike, and then subsequently everyone else in the firehouse, his penis, which had turned a bright shade of orange. If the explanation was slightly convoluted it didn’t matter as we got a good five minutes of one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen on TV in a long while.

The extended season has given Rescue Me license to spend five minutes on a comedy set piece as above or alternatively on a meandering soliloquy from a character, and although not in-keeping with the blistering pace of earlier seasons it has added another dimension to the show.

If the under-use of Lenny Clarke has been a slight bone of contention this season, it has more than been made up for by Adam Ferrara getting a great deal of screen time as Needles, again an old friend of Leary’s, the relationship off screen clearly translates on screen and Needles has become one of my favourite characters. Hopefully Ferrara will be bumped up to regular for next season, along with Larenz Tate as Black Shawn, who has also gone from strength to strength this season.

I’ve previously waxed lyrical about Michael J. Fox’s guest appearance, but Maura Tierney may just have given him a run for his money as she plays against type as a mysterious love interest for Tommy.

Rescue Me is definitely back to its incendiary best: poignant, gut-wrenching, emotionally resonating, tense and hilarious all rolled into one smoky New York package peppered with brilliant running gags (Leary’s myriad look-alikes). This is a show that can hang with the best of them; and for me is up there with Californication, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men and Breaking Bad as one of the five best shows on TV.

You might not be able to tune in, but do yourself a favour and grab the DVDs – because this show should be mandatory in everyone’s TV schedules.

Other Musings:

- American Idol has returned and although I’d been spurning the show, now we’ve entered the good part of the competition, I’m very much getting into things.

I was very surprised to see 70s throwback Tyler Grady eliminated last week, but if I had to make a prediction for a winner at this stage (I actually picked this guy before the final 24 were announced) I’d have to go with Casey James, that’s what my head is saying, my heart though says Lee DeWyze.

For the girls, I’d say that Lilly Scott and Crystal Bowersox have been the two that impressed me the most so far, whether they (Crystal in particular) have what it takes to go all the way though I’m not sure.

- I’d heard good things about a show called Nurse Jackie, so I thought to myself “must remember to catch that if and when it’s shown over here”, then as I watched the Winter Olympics coverage the other night it was on straight after!

Sadly though I’ve missed the entire season and only caught the finale – way to go BBC!

From what I saw though it looks like Nurse Jackie is deserving of the plaudits it’s been receiving. Dark, funny and starring the delectable Edie Falco – what more could you ask for!? And if that’s not enough for you, it’s even got Paul ‘Ryan Chappelle’ Schulze in it.

- Olivia Lee should really just stick to looking reasonably hot, because her new show on Comedy Central looks gash as. Dirty, Sexy, Funny? It should just be renamed Dirty, Sexy…

TV Moment of the Week:

- Okay so technically this was last week, but as Sci-Fi decided to purge itself of Dollhouse last week I’ve only just managed to catch up.

It was a joy to see Enver Gjokaj get to trot out his Fran Kranz impression again as his character was turned into Topher 2.0 for a second time. Gjokaj has Kranz (as Topher)’s mannerisms down pat and it really is an impressive impersonation, whether Gjokaj has a talent for impressions or whether he just picked up on Kranz from being around him so much remains to be seen, but this was one of the highlights of the series first time round and it was nice to revisit it one last time before the show ended.

In all, the show built up to a great finale, even if Boyd’s turn to the darkside did kind of come out of nowhere.

It would have been great to see his deception slowly revealed over a couple of seasons but needs must. It’s been nice to see the return of some of the shows familiar faces for the run in, in particular Reed Diamond as Laurence Dominic, who got to redeem himself somewhat.

The final episodes had all the trademarks of a Whedon finale – beloved characters died, people got blood splattered on their faces and, as I’ve already hit on, there was redemption for some and duplicities revealed in others. Thankfully Whedon and crew were given enough time to wrap this up as best they could, so we actually got a satisfactory conclusion to what has been one of the most hit and miss shows I’ve ever experienced.

Farewell Dollhouse, you will be missed (sort of).

24 Day 8 Death Counter:

Hour 9

Josef Bazhaev – shot by Samir (Farhad’s man) with a sniper rifle.

Nick – shot with shotgun by Cole Ortiz

Kevin (assumed) – stabbed by Nick, (was still alive [just] as we hit the top of the hour – but I’m willing to bet good money he’s dead as our next episode begins so I’m counting it for this hour)

Episode Death Total = 3

Cumulative Season Death Total = 31

(Ongoing) Jack Bauer Kills (JBK) Total = 9

Check in with TV or not TV next week for a preview of the 2010 instalment of one of my personal TV highlights of the year: The Cheltenham Festival.


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