There is nothing more satisfying in this world than watching Denis Leary explode in a massive ball of despair, anger, and insecurity. Thankfully, this is pretty much the entire premise for his F/X show Rescue Me. The first season introduced Denis Leary as firefighter Tommy Gavin, a man who sees the spirits of people he wasn't able to save from fires, including his cousin who died in 9/11. The first season struck an excellent balance between bleak humor and serious drama. It was rightfully called one of the best shows on television. Season two started out in the same fashion, but quickly devolved into overdone melodrama. Luckily, season three hearkens back to season one and stands as the finest set thus far.
The end of season two left everyone in a difficult place. Tommy and Janet have split due to the death of their son Connor. Chief Reilly is dealing with his wife's Alzheimer's. Kenny is stuck in a complete downward spiral after being conned by a prostitute who left him penniless and heartbroken. Franco is trying to adapt to life with a daughter. And Tommy's uncle is in jail for killing the drunk driver who slayed Connor. In other words, not an easy time for any of them.
The problem with the second season was the overwhelming, oppressive gloom and doom. Whether or not it was justified (and that's a discussion for another time), it was absolutely not fun nor, in my mind, entertaining. Season three starts things off on the right foot by bringing back the biting sarcasm and the brilliant character interplay. And this time around, the show never forgets that no matter how bad things may get for an individual character, there's always a humorous side to it. And even the episode that mirrors the tragedy at the end of last season is played with far more taste and perspective.
Aside from the aftermath of last season's events, the major conflict comes from Tommy's fear that the team may be breaking up. Lou gets an offer from his cousin to retire and work on a fishing boat. Franco is looking to take the lieutenant's test so he can take better care of his daughter. And the Probie is thinking of transferring to a new house due to the amount of flak he gets from the guys every day. And Sheila tries to lure Tommy away from the firehouse by buying a house on the beach for the two of them to live in. These seemingly unrelated motivations are the cause of most of the events in the episodes.
Of course, in true Rescue Me fashion, there are always the crazy unrelated subplots that sneak up unexpectedly. The biggest of these is the revelation that Janet has shacked up with Johnny, Tommy's brother. This leads Tommy to start dating Johnny's ex-wife (Marisa Tomei, looking hot). Of course, Sheila finds out, which causes all sorts of problems Tommy couldn't possibly foresee. And the Probie has it worse when he decides to start experimenting with his sexuality. Sean marries Tommy's sister Maggie, and, well, you get the idea. A good part of the charm of Rescue Me is the utter, off the wall wackiness that Leary and co. inject into each and every episode, and it's on ample display here.
The cast is on top form all the way through. Denis Leary plays Tommy as, well, he plays Tommy as if he's Denis Leary. But Leary is such a compelling character on his own that it makes Tommy endlessly interesting. While Leary writes the show, you get the feeling that a lot of his takes are spur of the moment and improvised. The rest of the firefighting team are all great in their own ways. John Scurti gets some of the best lines and deadpan takes in the entire series. Steven Pasquale and Mike Lombardi are both hilariously clueless. Daniel Sunjata does a great job handling Franco, especially in this season, as he does more growing here than in the other two seasons combined.
The actors who play the members of Tommy's personal life are equally good. Andrea Roth is great as Tommy's long suffering wife Janet. Even when she's doing the worst things with Tommy's brother, she still seems to keep her dignity. Callie Thorne is wonderfully insane as Sheila, who goes even further off the deep end. Tatum O'Neill is brilliant as Maggie. She's a character without restrictions, someone who says what she wants when she wants to. I could watch her for hours. Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon both make memorable cameos. My only problem is that Dean Winters as Tommy's brother Johnny is fairly flat. I never thought he was the best actor in the ensemble, and playing a more antagonistic role doesn't suit him.
There's a lot to recommend about the third season of Rescue Me. It's a return to form for the show, which had taken a dip previously. The scenarios are crazier, the acting keeps getting better, and the writing is stellar. Are you still here? Go grab the set!
The episodes in this set are:
The Blu-ray Disc:
Behind The Smoke: The most conventional "making of" piece in the set, this is mostly a collection of interviews from co-creator Peter Tolan and several members of the cast and crew. They discuss the direction the show took this season, and where it may go in season four. Notably absent is Denis Leary.
Comedy Short: Essentially a fifteen-minute deleted scene where the guys think a wolf has gotten into the house. Hilarious antics ensue. It's actually a pretty hilarious bit, although I could see why it wasn't in the series proper.
Location Tour: Interviews with Eddy Collins, the location manager for the show. He stands outside a location and describes it, and then we see some clips that take place in said location.
Deleted Scenes: There are deleted scenes for every episode in the season (each set of scenes is found on the disc where the episode appears). I've watched a lot of deleted scenes for movies and TV, and there's a reason most of them get cut. They're either redundant, boring, or both. Not so here. All of these, while perhaps not entirely essential to the story, add hilarious character touches and are as good as anything that made it in to each episode. Just goes to show the kind of high quality writing that Rescue Me has.
Being Denis Leary: Interviews with Leary's stunt man. Most of it is in the Ben Stiller "Tom Crooze" vein, with the stunt man pretending to act like Leary at all times.
Going To The Gay Place: An explanation of an April Fool's joke that was played on Denis Leary that ended up making its way to the New York Post.
The Bravest Traditions: Interviews with real firefighters about the history and traditions found in firefighting.
Fighting Fires In A Vertical City: Explanations of the difficulty of fighting fires in New York City.
Season 3 Gag Reel: Normally I find gag reels a waste of time, as you usually have to have been part of the crew to get the gags. But again, Rescue Me is made up of some seriously funny people, and thus the gag reel ends up being pretty darn hilarious.
Behind The Hose: In a way a gag reel of its own, "Behind The Hose" is mostly practical jokes that the actors played on each other. Funny stuff, though.
Sneak Peek At Season 4: A very old "sneak" peek that features no footage or audio from season four, and even gets the premiere date wrong.