Are you like me? Waiting 19 bloody months for a new episode of Rescue Me? Denis Leary's NYFD saga returns tonight at 10 p.m. on Showcase with the first of 22 brand new episodes. Blame, once again, the writers strike for the delay, although the good news is we get a nice, broadcast-length season (followed by at least another 18 episodes in already ordered Season Six).
I've seen the first four and can report that the series is back on track after going a bit off the rails last season, as even Leary admits.
Rescue Me has an amazing cast but there were so many faces last season and it all got a bit confusing. Too much time was spent with Tommy Gavin's extended (and crazy) family. This season, the emphasis shifts back to his other family, the dysfunctional dudes inside the firehouse.
Had the great privilege of touring the set in New York last month. The gang is ensconced in an industrial stretch of Queens. You'd never know a TV show shoots there. Our cab circled the 'hood three times before figuring out the right gateway.
The day I was there the production was wrapping up their 22 episode marathon. One of the A.D.'s, Matt Sirianni, gave a tour of the sets spread out over the massive sound stage. There's the Lumberjack bar where plenty happens this season. "It's our new kitchen," suggests Sirianni. The old Ladder 62 firehouse kitchen is still there (and gets plenty of screen time). On the old wooden lunch table were a couple of copies of a real magazine: Fire Engineering." There was the chief's office, with the sign on the door: "Bad planning on your part does not necessarily constitute an automatic emergency on my part."
It's a very relaxed, friendly environment. Leary and several members of the cast and crew play hockey together at a rink in Queens every Thursday morning before getting down to work. How civilized is that?
I interviewed Leary with another journalist, Nina Rehfeld, a writer who lives in Arizona and writes for German publications. (Many journalists get prickly when paired with another scribe, but I never mind sharing with "foreign" press. Sure, I could still get scooped by "Der Speigel," or even "Der Speigel Catalogue," but a radically different point of view often produces thoughtful, original answers, as Leary provided on this occasion.)
Rescue Me is just coming to Germany for the first time, so Rehfeld had a lot of questions about the origins of the series, about Tommy Gavin being such a dog, about why anyone would even tackle a black comedy about New York firefighters immediately after 9/11. "I don't know how to say 'Why We Suck' in German," Leary kidded.
I was more interested in Season Five, in Michael J. Fox's five episode spin this season and a few things that have been bugging me ever since I started watching the show, particularly Gavin's struggle with fate and random behaviour, with his Irish Catholic upbringing and his sacrilegious lifestyle.
Maybe it was the combination of our approaches but Leary walked into this tiny upstairs room with the two of us (plus two publicists, one Canadian, one American) and didn't walk out again for almost an hour. The Sony publicist said she had never seen the guy give so much in an interview before and I believe it; I had been trying to get 10 minutes with Leary the last four seasons.
As a writer, producer and star on the series, he had to have been exhausted on the second last day of shooting. He seemed instead exhilarated and admitted to being a little of both.
If it has launched a year earlier, Rescue Me probably would have wound up at HBO. After two sorry years at ABC trying to get his previous series, The Job, off the ground, Leary and producing partner Peter Tolan swore off the broadcast networks and took Rescue Me to HBO. They were not prepared to surrender ownership of the series, however, and that was a deal breaker for HBO.
Leary says they weren't thinking about FX but The Shield had just broken through there. He was impressed with the U.S. cable network right from the very first meeting. "I'd never seen marketing people in a creative meeting before," he says. "The marketing campaigns are almost completely their idea." The Season Five campaign, on the sides of buses and on billboards all over Manhattan, is particularly impressive.
"In the movie business," Says Leary, "when you get down to the movie being done, even when it’s good, you have to worry about the marketing and how much money they’re going to put into it. They can ruin a movie with their marketing campaign." Not at FX, says Leary, a sentiment echoed by the stars of several other FX shows over the years.
Leary originally saw Rescue Me as a movie; Tolan pushed for a series seeing potential in the firehouse "family." Leary also never saw himself as Tommy Gavin but, again, it was Tolan who told him he to play the guy. "I didn’t want to act in it, I wanted to be behind the camera," says Leary. "The way I pictured the guy in my head was different from the movie version." He's glad now that he's Gavin. "It would really suck now if the show was this good and I was just sitting here as the producer and somebody like Kiefer [Sutherland] was playing him. I’d be very jealous and angry, especially if he was winning all these Emmys for playing Tommy Gavin."
Leary should not be confused with his character, however. I remarked how guys watch the show and sometimes root for--or at least identify with--Tommy's bad behaviour. (I’d heard this from, like, a friend of a friend.) A scene this season finds Gavin nuzzling with a foreign press babe before bailing and heading back home to his girlfriend (always alluring Gina Gershon, one of the amazing women who have drifted in and out of this series over the years). She can smell the other woman on him and confronts Gavin, who sorta tells the truth although he skirts around the sorta stepping out part. Some guys might see that scene and say give the guy a break, cut him some slack, he is at least trying to tell the truth. Leary sees it in more black and white terms. "She sees right through him," says Leary. A lie is a lie is a lie.
Leary says Gavin is struggling with a very core dilemma. does that which makes him a heroic firefighter, able to run into burning buildings right when mere mortals run out, also make him a complete mess as a father, husband, son and friend? Leary has seen this same reckless valour up close. He saw it in his cousin, Jerry Lucey, who lost his life a decade ago this December fighting a fire in Boston.
I wrote about Leary, the return of Rescue Me and Michael J. Fox's hilarious (and completely out of character) star turn this week for The Canadian Press. You can read that story here in Jam! Showbiz. Hope to write more about Rescue Me in the near future.