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Rescue Me: Season 7 Premiere

By Sunny Choi · July 15, 2011

I’m going to be brutally honest. I’ve been relatively sheltered all my life. My friend last year created small avatars to represent each of her friends, and she labeled me as most innocent, with starry eyes and a perfectly circular mouth. I’m the type of person who prefers to play Clue with my friends instead of partying and watch Toy Story 3 instead of Saw VIII (or whichever one was most recently released). So you can imagine my surprise when I was assigned to review the final season’s premiere of Rescue Me, a series fraught with family deaths, alcoholism, pregnancies, and violence. I am more familiar with TV shows like Boys Over Flowers, where teens express angst over their troubled love lives, and life is hard, but not that hard (I concede that BOF is not the most culturally valuable material). So, please forgive me I’m not objectively partial.

Throughout the entire episode, I kept wishing that Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) would assume his responsibilities as a father and husband instead of a college frat boy who can’t control his hormones. Even the show’s title, Rescue Me, indicates a lack of control and perhaps even passivity and despair. While I could easily write him off as an illogical and frustrating protagonist, I can also see how Tommy’s character flaws realistically portray how difficult it is to act your age (not your shoe size!) and proactively solve family issues as the alpha male, especially if they include a long-standing history of alcohol abuse.

The season premiere opens with Tommy trying to persuade Janet to go through with the pregnancy. Janet (Andrea Roth) asks Tommy for the same thing she’s been expecting for six seasons–to become an emotionally open, close-to-home dad. In response, Tommy gives a very lame, stock answer: “Normal is dead and buried underneath ground zero.” While the dead should be memorialized, they really deserve better treatment than being manipulated into the basis for Tommy’s tiring one-liner, which is supposed to legitimize his self-absorbed, hormonal, John Wayne defense mechanism. I actually whooped a little when Janet kicked him out of their car, forcing Tommy to stop the car by clinging on to the hood of the car and thus messing up his perfect blond ‘do. This ridiculous argument ends when they awkwardly encounter Janet’s OB-GYN in the parking lot. This motivates them to reenact normalcy and eventually reconcile.  

Five months later, their domestic quarrels have subsided, and they have decided to keep the baby. On to another “big” problem–Tommy feels butt-hurt because everyone in his family is doing just fine without him. After years of cat-fighting over Leary’s decrepit firefighting pseudo-John Wayne that is Tommy, Janet and Sheila (Callie Thorne) have reconciled their differences and now gossip over Tommy’s penis and girly legs. Instead of fully attending to her disabled son, Damien (Michael Zegen), Sheila decides to play marriage counselor to Janet and Sheila about their, ehem, sex life. She and Janet did get one thing correct–Tommy is an aging fireman with a hard-on, and the world does not revolve around his “pee-pee.” However, even these two women forget who needs the most help, and it isn’t Tommy.

What I consider unforgivable is that both the episode and Tommy heavily procrastinates in dealing with the relapse of his alcoholic daughter, Colleen (Natalie Distler), the only memorable conflict in this episode. The show proceeds to insult our intelligence by introducing Colleen working as (guess what?) a bartender who is supposedly still sober and attends AA meetings with her work colleagues. Tommy seethes with anger but illogically stalls as he gets distracted with “more important things,” such as trying to sweet-talk his wife into a sort of compromise for sexual intercourse during the most uncomfortable parts of her pregnancy.

The only time I found myself rooting for him was when he realizes that his daughter (obviously) still needs his guidance. He finally stands up to his long family history of alcohol abuse, and pulls a Clint Eastwood at the local bar (you’ll have to watch the episode to understand what exactly that entails). In contrast to the other scenes that served as filler and background noise, this moment precisely marked the time when his actions stopped screaming, “Rescue me! I’m drowning in my self-pity and won’t confront my problems.”

However, perhaps it is unfair for a naive, Korean college student like myself to criticize Tommy for not immediately assuming responsibility and “rescuing himself.” After all, being the head of a dysfunctional family with a life long history of alcohol abuse must be tough. In my mind, that still doesn’t excuse the belated response to his vulnerable daughter and his family legacy of alcoholism.           

I would say this show caters to some older men who still feel like rocking out and want to take a break from their families. People who enjoy intense drama around family issues may appreciate this series. However, I would counsel people who still (and want to) believe in happy, functional families to avoid this show.