Tuesday, June 27, 2006


We Didn't Start The Fire

My Post colleague Adam Buckman writes about the controversy swirling around the New York firefighter show Rescue Me

Last week's episode featured a rough sex scene between lead protagonist Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) and his ex-wife Janet: Was the sex between the two de facto rape -- and does the show send a sense of essentially condoning what happened?

Janet barely resists and acts rather normal a few minutes later -- both with Tommy and with his NYPD brother Johnny (with whom she has recently started an affair).

While the scene was quite disturbing, it should be put in the context of a show in which -- as Adam points out -- "people - both male and female - behave reprehensibly." Tommy has
been an alcoholic for most of the show's three seasons. Last year, he had an affair with his cousin Jimmy's widow (Jimmy died on 9/11) -- which is supposed to be a no-no in the FDNY brotherhood. This season, he finds out that his nephew Damian (Jimmy's son) is sleeping with his high school teacher. Tommy puts an end to it -- and ends up having sex with the teacher himself.

Janet, meanwhile, kidnapped their three kids while the divorce proceedings were going on. After she came back and they reconciled, their young son was killed by a hit-and-run driver; Janet blamed Tommy for not paying attention to the son riding his bike. She then got back at him by sleeping with the aforementioned brother. Tommy threw his brother through a

Yes, as the synopsis above suggests, Rescue Me has major soap-operatic elements, but it is the
most intense "real" dramatic show on television (24 is intense, but in an over-the-top comic-bookish way). Furthermore, unlike The Sopranos which gets kudos from critics and fans because of its plotting and emotional intensity, the men at the heart of Rescue Me -- despite their heavy flaws -- are clearly heroes (as opposed to the chic mobster don and his families).

Leary --
who runs a foundation (featured on the Apprentince this season) dedicated to purchasing various firefighting equipment for stations in New York, Boston and elsewhere -- clearly loves the "bravest." However, he refuses to portray them as perfect icons. They are people with broad ranges of emotions who suffer their little triumphs and great tragedies (last season's Alzheimer's arc was heart-rending) and still manage to go about their jobs.

One thing it is not is politically correct. While the show may slam city government for contract
issues and the feds over 9/11-related health issues at Ground Zero, it generally stays away from most "hard" political issues. However, everything else is fair game -- so firefighters can be sexist, racist, homophobic (even the young "probie" who has a rather interesting "arrangement" with his male roommate) and display other not-so-nice human attitudes (and also very funny, personable and engaging as well).

It's in this broad context that the sex scene between Tommy and Janet played out.

As Adam said, it's the best show on TV (on FX tonight at 10 and repeated several times thereafter during the week).

UPDATE: Yes, Rescue Me airs on FX, which is a division of Newscorp which publishes the New York Post, the company for which I work. Consider that a disclaimer (which isn't really necessary given that this is an independent blog with views that should not be considered reflective of those of the Post, Newscorp, Fox or any other corporate holding of Mr. Rupert Murdoch's. So there.

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