EDITOR’S NOTE: This article contains spoilers for the series finale of Rescue Me. Read at your own risk.
By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor
I don’t know who made the decision to sync the end of Rescue Me to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, but it was a bad one, because it guaranteed that an intriguingly relaxed, sometimes brilliant final season got lost amid the din of remembrances. I didn’t expect it to end as strongly as it did. The show’s saggy middle stretch — approximately Seasons 3 through 6 — was mostly exasperating. Leary and Peter Tolan’s firefighter drama had a terrific pugnacious spirit and a what-the-hell, let’s-try-it attitude, but it kept succumbing to its worst impulses, to the point where it got lost in its own identity as an “outrageous,” “searing,” “powerful” drama and just started to seem desperate. How many times would Tommy alienate almost everyone, then make up for it with a spectacular act of heroism? How many horrendous, random deaths and other traumas would he endure before the ghost of NYPD Blue death-cursed hero Andy Sipowicz materialized before him and said, “You win, kiddo — your life is worse”? Six Feet Under, a series that the death-obsessed, ghost-haunted “Rescue Me” occasionally resembled, had the same trouble balancing rude but droll comedy and out-of-nowhere tragedy, and a similar tendency to go grandiose when a more subdued approach might have served better. And yet it, too, rallied in its last year, building toward a finale whose sentiment felt earned.
I bet history’s judgment will be mostly kind to the show, though — especially the first two seasons, and this closing stretch. It wasn’t always good, and sometimes it wasn’t even likable, but it was almost always interesting — sometimes in spite of itself. It wasn’t a complacent series; its idea of great drama could be sophomoric, but it had a restless spirit and a determination to push commercial TV content restrictions as far as they would go, no mean feat in the era of TV-MA programming. The last episode of Rescue Me, which aired tonight, didn’t showcase that side of the program’s identity; if anything it went the other way. I love that they started exactly the way you expected them to start — with a lavish funeral in an immense cathedral — then revealed that it was just a dream and set the surviving characters down a mostly comic road. Road, as in actual thoroughfare: The image of those squabbling survivors jammed together in a car was priceless. And the decision to go out with a cough and a smile (no ashes-in-the-face gag will ever top The Big Lebowski) spoke well of the show’s instincts. This wasn’t a three-hanky special like the Six Feet closer. But it was almost as satisfying, and in some ways more surprising because of its emphasis on slapstick misfortune rather than dark-night-of-the-soul emoting.
You can read the rest of Matt’s piece here at Salon.
A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com and the founder of Press Play.