'Rescue Me' may have crossed the line
By Ellen Gray
Knight Ridder News Service
By Ellen Gray
If there's a downside to edgy TV, it's the downside itself — the scary drop that occurs when a show that likes to play inches from the cliff loses its footing and falls. Or gets pushed.
FX's "Rescue Me" is in its third season as an edgy dramedy starring Denis Leary — who, I'll bet, detests the term "dramedy" and is no doubt sick to death of "edgy," too — as an alcoholic firefighter named Tommy Gavin.
On Tuesday night, "Rescue Me" may have pushed past some people's limits when it showed Tommy abruptly ending a property settlement discussion by hitting his estranged wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), shoving her onto a couch and forcing himself on her.
I could have just written that he raped her, but it's a word that loses its power through repetition and doesn't begin to describe the complications inherent in this particular act, which Janet, we were led to believe, eventually acquiesced to and may even have enjoyed. Yuck.
Now I'm not going to get into whether Tommy ought to be doing things like this. Tommy's a fictional character, and he's constantly doing things he shouldn't be doing.
I'm not even going to suggest that the guys behind "Rescue Me" — Leary and co-creator Peter Tolan — ought not to be showing something like this on TV, since putting things on TV that most sane people wouldn't is pretty much why those two get up in the morning.
I am, however, going to say that whatever happened to Janet on the couch isn't the worst thing that's been done to the woman, or to most of the women on "Rescue Me."
The real attacks start in the writers' room, where Janet's been tagged with one sin after another, first leaving Tommy, then kidnapping their kids and now having an affair with Tommy's brother (Dean Winters), a betrayal that might, in some minds, justify anything her ex chooses to do to her.
Tuesday's episode also offered a quick rundown of some of the other women in Tommy's life, when, en route to a sperm-donor clinic where he takes back-to-back calls from Janet, his promiscuous sister (Tatum O'Neal), his ex-lover and cousin-in-law (Callie Thorne) — a 9/11 widow who still pines for him — and the high school teacher (Paige Turco) who had an affair with his teen nephew and subsequently bedded Tommy.
Tommy refers to all this as "Crazy Chick Calling Day," though at least he doesn't hear from some of "Rescue Me's" other "chicks," including the hooker-porn star who romanced Tommy's lieutenant (John Scurti), then took him for every cent he had (whatever cents were left after his wife deserted him for another man and got most of what they had), or the sexually voracious older woman (Susan Sarandon) with a interest in Franco (Daniel Sunjata).
You could say, and you'd be right, that "Rescue Me" doesn't exactly cover its male characters with glory. They're all punks.
What they're not, though, is uninteresting, or unfunny, as the women so frequently are.
When I broached the subject of Janet during a conference call Tolan and Leary did with reporters about a month ago, Leary promised that Episode 4 — that aired Tuesday — would explain "a lot of why these two people are so unable to walk away from each other," adding, "Certainly in real life, I can relate to that."
If that's how Leary sees real life, then maybe it's time the women in his life spoke up for the women in Tommy Gavin's.