In my review of Rescue Me: Season Five, Vol. 1, I spent some time pondering the decision to double the length of the show's regular fifth season and then split it into two expensive DVD sets. It seemed to me that these kinds of decisions usually lead to stretching a regular cycle's story arc as thin as it will go, and sure enough if Rescue Me: Season Five, Vol. 2 doesn't shove some nasty proof into this rather bland tasting pudding.
This new collection spreads eleven episodes over three discs, shows 12 through 22 of the fifth season. Episode 12, "Disease," picks up right where Vol. 1 left off, adding to the feeling that this isn't really a new cycle, just business as usual. The show's sort-of main character, Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary), is caught between his wife Janet (Andrea Roth) and Sheila (Callie Thorne), the widow of his cousin and his crazy lover since the start of Rescue Me. Tommy has been caught between these two the whole time, actually, but this time the pressure of family is adding some further weight. Janet offers no-strings sex in exchange for an illusion of domestic bliss to help calm the angst of their youngest daughter (Olivia Crocicchia), and Sheila is suggesting the same in exchange for Tommy helping her boy Damien (Michael Zegan) through his early firefighter training. Tommy's pal Lou (John Scurti), another veteran firefighter, sees that no strings really means a lot of strings, and he makes a bet with Tommy that he's going to trip in this web. Of course, Lou is also in his own predicament: the hooker (Milena Govich) who conned him in 2005 is back, and Lou is falling in love again.
See? Business as usual. Plus, we've got a couple of episodes left with Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale) recovering from kidney cancer, including a pair of new musical numbers. There was one at the very end of Vol. 1, and it was terribly out of place. I guess the producers thought they could throw in a couple more to make the first one seem less alone. Never admit defeat, fellas!
Rescue Me: Season Five, Vol. 2 is a whole lot of treading water. Just about every episode features either Janet or Sheila pleading their case to Tommy, one being forceful and mean, the other sexual and violent, with Tommy taking detours into his visions of dead relatives and debates about alcoholism. Meanwhile, there are shenanigans at the firehouse, exploring the various sexual dysfunctions of the team, be it Sean's discolored member or whether the girl Franco (Daniel Sunjata) is dating is really a lesbian. Important stuff, even if it's not about fighting fires, yeah?
It's weird when you consider the languid pace with which the Rescue Me team takes viewers through these story lines. While some of it is long because we've seen it before--Tommy's love triangle, his falling out with Lou, etc.--there is also a freshness to how some of the scenes are played that goes counter to what is bugging me. It's actually quite nice to see some of the longer exchanges in the shows, where Leary (who co-writes most episodes) and the producers let a conversation flow at a natural pace, going on much longer than the normal sound-bite style of other sitcoms. In episode 17, there is a great confrontation between Janet and Sheila that continues to bubble well past the regular boiling point, interrupted only by comedic entrances and exits from other characters. In episode 18, when Sean's penis problems are being discussed, they build and build to the point of it getting ludicrous, starting with Sean showing his johnson to one of the guys and ending with the entire crew checking it out. And a punch line to boot!
Still, it's hard to get around the feeling that nothing is really happening. So little happens, in fact, the writers often seem to hit "reset" and go back over plot points with clumsy exposition. "Hey, we're having a concert for Sean, you've never heard this before even though you have." This also tends to sometimes contradict prior character motivations, particularly in the all-important no-strings bit with Sheila and Janet. Even an intervention to get Tommy to stop drinking ends predictably, with Tommy getting his whole family to fall off the wagon instead. This is an obvious set-up for end-of-the-season tragedy. Even if the drama wasn't apparent on the face of it, the many unnecessary dream sequences foreshadow impending doom. And at the same time, what happened to other stories? What about the new evidence regarding Jimmy's death on 9/11? Given how important that disaster is to the guys, you'd think the DVD Tommy found in Vol. 1 would still be hanging around. Then again, look at how they summarily resolve the Lou/Candy marriage, and you start to see a pattern.
The only "new" wrinkle to the show is the addition of yet another outside love interest. Fresh of off ER, Maura Tierney makes a welcome visit to the Rescue Me set, joining for the last handful of episodes in Season Five, Vol. 2. She plays Kelly McPhee, a mysterious rocker chick that sets her sights on some of the firefighters after they visit her building. Something about her take-no-guff attitude intrigues Tommy, and it's great to see Tierney playing it light after years of being the emotional heavy on ER. (They also had her looking pretty haggard those last couple of seasons, so it's nice having producers who haven't forgotten how pretty she is.)
Tierney, though formidable, proves too little too late. It's not enough to pull the season out of tailspin, and it already looks like she won't be back next time anyway. (Again, summarily dismissed, much like Michael J. Fox earlier this season; in and out.) The final episode builds up to a ridiculously contrived TV scenario, the kind of moment that should make Tommy rethink everything. Yet, by the time we've gotten through yet another of Rescue Me's portentous, tension-draining musical montages (I still blame David E. Kelley for those), the cliffhanger has already lost its punch. We know how it will turn out, the same way it always turns out. We don't have to wait until next summer, it's already happened. Same as it ever was....
Episodes can be chosen one at a time, or there is a play-all function. (It's the same for deleted scenes.)
DVD 3 also has two featurettes, just like on Vol. 1. This time there is "Dysfunctional Family Dinner" (40:34), an interesting and different kind of promo. Producer Peter Tolan introduces it, and he and Leary, writer Evan Reilly, and the actors sit down for a meal and talk about how they do the show, favorite moments, etc. The discussion topics come from fans. It's pretty fun, with the camaraderie of a cast that has spent this much time together lending a good spirit to the session. More conventional is "Setting the Backfires of Season 5," a 15-minute look at work on the set, particularly focusing on the stunts. Some of this is actually a repeat of stuff we saw in the extras on Vol. 1 re-edited into a shorter program. Man, they are even repeating themselves in the promo material!
The expected gag reel is just over 5 minutes, and has some amusing bloopers and the actors pranking on each other.
DVD 3 is rounded out with a bunch of trailers and previews.
The three DVDs come in two slimline cases, and they are inside a cardboard box.