It might blow the show's macho image to say this, but "Rescue Me," which returns 9 p.m. Tuesday on FX, is really just one long public service broadcast.
If, as a woman, you've ever wondered how men act when they're together, how they talk to each other, how they deal with rage and confusion and lust, there's no better guide than this show, which may just be hitting its stride in its third season.
Tommy Gavin, the New York City firefighter played by Denis Leary, is relatively together at the start of this season, considering that at the end of the show's second year, his son died, an event that split Gavin and his wife, Janet, for good.
But Gavin's sticking to his newfound sobriety -- with the booze, that is. He has a harder time finding any kind of permanent emotional hookup, but the point of the show is to explore whether the troubled Gavin is truly capable of that.
That may be the dark heart of the series, which depicts the danger and stress and even strangeness of being a firefighter with unflinching reality. Yet there's so much that's funny about the show that it's tempting to call it a comedy.
At a birthday party, Gavin and his AA sponsor, Mickey, are chatting about how to remain sober at stressful family gatherings. Gavin asks how Mickey does it.
"I smoke a lot of weed," Mickey replies.
At one point, one of Gavin's daughters wants to talk about her dead brother, and Gavin gives her some weak dialogue straight out of "7th Heaven."
"That's really lame, Daddy," she replies.
"Rescue Me" doesn't have a lot of time for platitudes; its cutting wit and its jittery energy are refreshing as well. And there are so many standouts in the ensemble cast that there's hardly room to list them all: John Scurti is invaluable as the gruff, struggling Lt. Lou O'Shea; Charles Durning is believably selfish as Gavin's dad; even a small role, such as Gavin's Uncle Teddy, is done to perfection by Lenny Clarke.
The rock-solid Daniel Sunjata, as the ladies' man Franco Rivera, gets and deserves a meaty story line this season; he becomes involved with a rich older woman (played by Susan Sarandon), who sees past his ever-ready line of smooth talk. Let's hope that female character, as so many on "Rescue Me" do, doesn't turn out to be a clingy, whiny turnoff -- Sarandon and "Rescue Me's" many female fans deserve better.
"Rescue Me" is a little too addicted to closing montages set to music; it's a little too fond of depicting Gavin as a sexy bad-boy icon, even when his behavior verges on irritatingly repetitive; and so far I'm not seeing the wisdom of casting Tatum O'Neal as Gavin's firecracker of a sister. Never mind. The firehouse gang -- a group that has all the alternately gossipy, secretive and supportive drama of a sorority, or of most fraternities for that matter -- and the intimacy that they are forced into by living together much of the time feels absolutely real.
You may not want to live in that all-male hothouse, but visiting it once a week is a must.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times