RESCUE ME (TV SERIES) - Blu-ray review

the most compelling drama-comedy hybrid to date


In recent years, FX Networks has been the cable channel that could do no wrong. Starting with acclaimed crime drama series "The Shield", FX has been able to churn out an unbroken string of hit shows, one after another, including the controversial and sometimes explicit medical drama "Nip/Tuck" and this one, the well-received dramedy (combination of drama and comedy) "Rescue Me". In the television business, that's like striking the lottery three times. In a week! Well, things this good never lasts, do they? After three recent duds ("Over There", "Thief" and "Dirt"), FX got back into the groove this year with "The Riches", the Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver-helmed drama about a family of gypsies. However, much as I love watching "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck" (both shows are favorites of mine), "Rescue Me" is probably the one series that I look forward to the most from FX each year. It is both intelligent and funny as hell, a rare combination that when coupled with great acting from the entire cast, results in one of the best TV shows this side of HBO.

"Rescue Me" is a funny and often complicated inside look into the lives of a group of firemen from New York City's Engine Company 62. Theirs is a macho, testosterone-filled, non-PC world, filled with enough racial and sexual slurs that would make even the most hardened guys blush. No, there are no f-bombs flying every which way but watch this show and you'll be wondering, "How did they get away with that?" Sad to say, this non-conformity is really the crucial ingredient that makes "Rescue Me" stand out from among the many shows in the crowded cable TV arena. The state of our current media environment is such that every new show on TV is conceived with multitudes of self-imposed politically-correct boundaries in mind. When a program comes along and demolishes those boundaries (without breaking any FCC rules on indecency of course), we should certainly stand up and applaud. "Rescue Me" and most of FX's other original shows typically fall into this category.

Tommy Gavin (Dennis Leary) is the de facto ring leader of this group of infantile miscreants whose job it is to put out fires and save lives. A tall order for most anyone but surprisingly, these guys do it with professionalism (well, mostly) and bravery. On the job, these guys certainly take their duties very seriously but it is their downtime antics that create the most headaches for their superiors and their families and friends. The guys in this group include Lieutenant Kenneth "Lou" Shea (John Scurti), Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale), ladies man Franco Rivera (Daniel Sunjata) and the youngest of the group, Mike Silletti (Mike Lombardi), also affectionately known as "probie" for his probationary status. Overseeing these misfits is old timer Chief Jerry Reilly (Jack McGee), who more often than not, adds more fuel to the group's frat house behavior.

The previous season saw Tommy's marriage disintegrate when his wife Janet (Andrea Roth) found out that Tommy was having an affair with Sheila (Callie Thorne), the wife of his cousin Jimmy (James McCaffrey), who died on 9/11. Not only did Tommy break his marriage vows, more alarmingly, he broke an unwritten FDNY rule of not dating or sleeping with the widows of other firemen. However, as the season went on, Tommy and Janet decide to give their marriage another try, only to be hit by the worst tragedy that any family can endure--the sudden death of a loved one. In the most heart-breaking moment of the show so far, their son, Connor (Trevor Heins) was run over by a drunk driver. That twist in the storyline came out of left field and left most fans, including me, shocked beyond belief. It is not often that a child character is killed off from a show under such tragic circumstances. In the aftermath, Janet loses it and casts the blame for Connor's death solely on Tommy. In the final episode, the Gavin clan seeks to mete out their own form of justice and at the last minute, Tommy's uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke) takes the fall instead by killing the driver involved.

Season 3 opens with Tommy and Janet now separated and Teddy in jail for murder. The Gavin family dynamics take a bizarre turn when we find out that Janet is now sleeping with Tommy's brother, Johnny (Dean Winters), a cop, and Sheila, who has a rather unhealthy obsession with Tommy, resorting to drugging him in order for them to have sex! Teddy may be in jail waiting for his trial but he is certainly not treating it like any form of hardship. In fact, Teddy is even gaining popularity on the outside among activists who see his actions as a rallying cry against drunk driving. Tommy's unstable sister, Maggie (Tatum O'Neill), who showed up late in Season 2 after finding out that their father, John Sr. (Charles Durning) might be inheriting a large sum of money, is now dating Sean. An unlikely pair to say the least, Sean tries to keep their relationship a secret from Tommy out of sheer terror of what Tommy might do if he found out!

In another unexpected scenario, we find Mike (the probie) caught up in a homosexual relationship with his roommate. Mike is sure he is not gay (sexually confused, yes but certainly not gay!) but in some bizarre twist of logic, thinks that what they are doing is somehow OK. Huh? Yeah, Mike sure is a hard one to crack! At the urging of his roommate, Mike is also considering putting in a transfer out of the firehouse due to all the crap that he had to put up with from the rest of the guys. Lou, after being conned out of his life savings by an attractive call girl last season, is now suffering from deep depression and increasingly turning to alcohol to forget his troubles. Ashamed of what had happened to him, Lou has not told anyone about his dire financial situation. As for Chief Reilly, he is facing his own financial dilemma. Feeling the pressure to admit his wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, into a nice long tern care facility that comes with a high price tag that his firefighter's salary can't possibly cover, the chief tries to make up for the shortfall by taking on a second job working at a bar cleaning up tables. Guess how that job will turn out when he gets ordered around by a bunch of young people.

For all the crazy drama that goes on in this show, this third season also features a couple of celebrity guest stars. First, we have Susan Sarandon, who plays a Manhattan socialite named Alicia, who hooks up with Franco at a bar. The pair soon starts dating and Franco even feels comfortable enough with their relationship to introduce her to his young daughter, Keelah (Cailin Stollar). Alicia immediately falls for the adorable Keelah and considering Franco's tight financial situation, she decides to take Keelah away to live with her without even consulting with Franco. At first angry and heart-broken, Franco soon comes to the realization that he can't possibly provide for Keelah the way Alicia can. Eventually, Franco meets another girl Natalie (Sherri Saum), who looks uncannily like Keelah, which, as you might expect, would bring up further issues later on. The second celebrity guest is none other than Marisa Tomei who plays Angie, Johnny's ex-girlfriend from way back. Since Johnny's seeing his soon-to-be ex-wife Janet, Tommy thinks that he can exact revenge by pursuing Angie. On a tip from Sheila, Tommy manages to "bump" into Angie but she immediately sees through his ruse. However, later on, Angie changes her mind and warms up to the idea of messing with Johnny's relationship with Janet.

""Rescue Me" is one of those TV shows that are bold enough to kill off any character without much fanfare or fuss. That was what happened in Season 2 when Tommy's son Connor was shockingly killed off at the end of the season. Without going into any details, expect another such surprise in this third season. Ending with a major cliffhanger, Season 4 can't come soon enough.

Echoing the show's theme song by The Von Bondies, "C'mon C'mon"!

Season 3 of "Rescue Me" consists of the following 13 episodes dispersed over the following 4 50GB Blu-ray discs:

Disc 1: "Devil", "Discovery", "Torture", "Sparks"
Disc 2: "Chlamydia", "Zombies", "Satisfaction"
Disc 3: "Karate", "Pieces", "Retards"
Disc 4: "Twilight", "Hell", "Beached"

Video for "Rescue Me" is presented in widescreen 1.78:1 1080p and encoded using the AVC/MPEG4 codec. Having only watched this show on TV and on DVD in standard definition resolution, I must say that I'm very impressed with this Blu-ray presentation as it is a huge step up from that. First off, there is a good sense of depth in the images, which typically points to a great high-definition transfer. The clarity and detail of the video images are impressive, with only a slight hint of grain present during low-light indoor shots. There are some inconsistencies in this area as some scenes tend to look much better than others but really, it is nothing so severe that would distract the viewer. Skin tones are not as detailed as I would like them to be but overall, colors are consistent throughout, with well-defined black levels. Subtitle options include English, French and English SDH.

To go with the excellent video transfer, Sony bequeathed an aggressive English language uncompressed PCM 5.1 (48kHz/4.6Mbps) soundtrack to this Blu-ray release. There is a lot to like here because the sound field is deep and rich when the on-screen action heats up and quiet and atmospheric during dialogue-heavy dramatic moments. Ambient and environmental noise is consistent throughout and stays nicely in the background while the surrounds and LFE kicks in with authority, especially during the firefighting scenes. Along with this great audio track, there is also an option for regular Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps) in both English and French. Obviously, these two lesser options sound much thinner and less aggressive than their PCM counterpart. Uncompressed PCM would be the audio option of choice if you have a receiver that can handle it.

Unlike some TV show releases that like to collect all the supplemental material on one disc, the extras here are spread out over all the 4 Blu-ray discs. Also, all the material you get in this section is presented in standard definition and is identical to the ones on the regular DVD version.

Disc 1:
"Behind the Smoke": This is a behind-the-scenes look back at Season 3 of the show where the cast and crew discuss about the major themes that came out of this season. Expect to see interviews with co-creator Peter Tolan, producers and writers and also the main stars as they talk about some of the more controversial stuff like Janet's affair with Tommy's brother or the almost-feral sex scene between Tommy and Janet.
"Rescue Me Comedy Short": This turned out to be a hilarious short that never made it to the show proper. It involves five firemen and an apparent wild animal loose in the firehouse. That's all I'm going to say about it.
"Location on Tour": In this feature, location manager Eddy Collyns takes us on a tour of the various locations used for the show. These include many of the characters' apartments and also the firehouse.
"Deleted Scenes": There are 4 deleted scenes on this disc.

Disc 2:
"Being Dennis Leary": A funny interview with Dennis Leary's stand-in on the show, Eric, in which he tries to stay in-character and act like Leary.
"Going to the Gay Place": Playing on Mike the probie's homosexual slant this season, the writers decided to play a trick on the cast by adding a phony scene in the script that calls for the characters Mike and Sean to make out. This ruse even went as far as getting phony press releases, etc.

Disc 3:
"The Bravest Traditions": This contains interviews with former and current firemen as they discuss about the various traditions surrounding the profession, including the fire pole, the fire truck's red color and also the use of Dalmatians.
"Fighting Fires in a Vertical City": A feature about firefighting in New York City, a unique place with buildings that range from massive 50-story high-rises to 3-story tenements.
"Deleted Scenes": There are 3 deleted scenes on this disc.

Disc 4:
"Season 3 Gag Reel": A collections of line flubs and other on-set shenanigans from Season 3.
"Behind the Hose": Another behind-the-scenes feature but this time, more light-hearted.
"Sneak Peek at Season 4": A short and disappointing FX trailer for Season 4.
"Deleted Scenes": There are a total of 7 deleted scenes on this disc.
"Previews": This is the only HD content. It includes trailers for "Casino Royale", "Ultraviolet", "S.W.A.T." and other Blu-ray releases.

All 4 discs are packaged inside a Blu-ray case that is about twice the thickness of a regular case. There is also an insert that lists the 13 episodes of the show.

Film Value:
It is hard to describe it but "Rescue Me" is one of the funniest shows on TV today and yet also has the most complex character developments I've ever encountered. One would think that comedy and intricate storylines don't necessarily go hand in hand but "Rescue Me" turns that notion into a puff of smoke, meshing both together, resulting in the most compelling drama-comedy hybrid to date. If you thought the first two seasons were good, this third season of the show will further take your breath away.

Just remember to come up for air once in a while.


Film Value