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o new Sopranos episodes until 2006? Fx’s new post-September-11 firehouse drama, Rescue Me, has arrived in the nick of time. It’s my new emergency appointment television — and give me some air, ’cause I’m obsessed. The show is thoughtful, complicated, and ballsy, written with wit and resonance, masterfully cast and acted. It never slips into formula or serves up fake tears. And its hero, Tommy Gavin (my new fantasy boyfriend Denis Leary, who is also executive producer), Irish and proud though he may be, has enough in common with Tony Soprano to tide me over ‘til 2006.
    Rescue Me might seem a cloying title for a show that sweetens nothing, but the irony, I’m sure, is that it’s really our

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heroes who need help. Like Tony, Tommy carries the weight of the world — and the other world — on his shoulders. A senior crew member of Truck 62 uptown, he, too, has stress- and trauma-induced “episodes”: corpses and severed heads speak to him, and his best friend and cousin Jimmy (James McCaffrey), the only guy he really hangs out with, is dead. (Leary’s own cousin was killed fighting a fire in Massachusetts in 1999.) As Tommy tells a bunch of terrified recruits in a hazing speech, all that was left of Jimmy on September 11 was a finger; look closely and you’ll see that the ghost is nursing a wee bloody stump. No one else, of course, can see Jimmy; Tommy is always explaining to his sleepy children that “Daddy was just talking to the TV.”
    The whole stationhouse, really, is in deep pain that no one else can see. Hey, they’re New York’s bravest. They don’t talk about this stuff, other to complain that since the 9/11 effect wore off, they get much less “pussy.” The chief is so misogynistic he curses the robo-female voice alerting them to a fire, so homophobic he bans the word “metrosexual.” These guys run into burning buildings, slap each other on the back, and then go home and cry, drink, or — God help this guy — write poetry. They literally walk out on the in-over-her-head therapist who stops by “in case anyone wants to talk.” Riiight. A firefighter seeking help is like … a mobster seeking help. That’s why the ghost thing — a facile gimmick in the wrong hands — works. Who else, after all, will listen?
    And, of course, it’s much more touching, even wrenching, to watch a tough guy suffer than to hear an emo-boy overshare. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking to watch a desperate Tommy willing to do anything — anything ill-advised — to keep his family together, or at least his three kids close by. Things are bad enough with his estranged wife that there’s a “divorce pool” at the firehouse. As New York is really a small town, Tommy and Janet (Andrea Roth) live across the street from each other in a neighborhood that’s now, she complains, nothing but widows; she’s threatening to take the kids somewhere nice, like Kansas. Tommy’s having none of it. He employs his hacker godson to plague Janet’s Porsche-driving boyfriend Roger with computer viruses; displaying end-of-his-rope parenting skills, he plays a “game” with the kids that you might call “You give me dirt on Roger, I give you ten bucks.” I hope Janet stays around, not just because Roger is a tool, but also because her fights with Tommy are almost as harrowing as Tony and Carmela’s.
    And I hope Rescue Me stays around, because — much as I miss the root-for-the-sinner genius of the Sopranos — men tormented by good deeds is also quite something to witness. Risky tricks, un-Disney blazes, fallible firemen, open 9/11 wounds: Leary & Co. go there. I salute them as TV’s bravest.

©2004 Nerve.com.