Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/1/09

I almost don’t know what to write about this week’s harrowing episode of RESCUE ME, which left me totally shaken. The tone of the show whipsawed wildly from sweetly zany to gruesome to blackly comic to sad to sentimental. Watching it was like enduring an emotional pummeling.

The episode kicked off with Sean dreaming up a variation on Singin’ in the Rain, with himself as Gene Kelly, singing and dancing — while coughing constantly. It turned out that he was choking because Uncle Teddy was holding a pillow over Sean’s face, trying to put him out of his misery. (Apparently Teddy learned his lesson well at the VA hospital!) From that comic interlude, viewers went with the Engine 62 crew responding to a traffic accident, where the hardened firemen were horrified and sickened by the sight of the broken and burned corpse of a little girl. Only Tommy was able to approach and gather the tiny body parts in a blanket. The rest of the crew was in awe of his dedication to the job. But was it courage that enabled Tommy to do his duty, or something that was broken inside him when his own son, Connor, was killed by a drunken driver? Is he that disconnected from his basic humanity? The central question of the entire five-season run — what makes Tommy tick? — was finally addressed directly when he settled in with some booze to watch home movies. In short order Tommy was visited by the ghosts of his dead son, dead cousin, dead brother and dead father. It was dad who spelled it out: Tommy is the best firefighter ever because he’s completely dead inside — “the original Iron Man” — he has no feelings anymore, and no tears left to cry. Tommy decided to test the theory by burning a hole in his leg with a blowtorch! His skin cracked and blistered, and it hurt like hell, but he did not cry.

Later, the guys were visiting Sean at the hospital when they spied some “cancer kids.” A nurse told them not stare at the kids with sad faces, because it upsets the children. While the rest of the group shambled away, Tommy went into the cancer ward and chatted up the kids, smiled and even read to them! For the second time, the guys were thunderstruck by Tommy’s interaction with children. But instead of proving how cut off Tommy is, might I suggest that Tommy’s compassion for the sick children was exactly the same emotion he demonstrated for the mutilated little girl at the beginning of the episode? And that Tommy is not as alien as he fears he is? Just because Tommy cannot cry does not mean he’s no longer human. In his own way, Tommy’s disconnect lets him make the world a little bit better place.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/8/09

I haven’t seen a full episode of RESCUE ME since the fourth season concluded in September 2007. The nine mini-episodes broadcast last summer were fun, but only served to remind me what I was missing: an acid-tongued series packed with witty dialogue, outrageous storylines and thrilling fire sequences. Well, my friends, our wait is over. RESCUE ME has returned for a full-fledged fifth season, and star/co-creator Denis Leary was in top form as fractured firefighter Tommy Gavin. What makes Tommy such an intriguing character is the depths of his emotions. He loves and hates (but especially hates) with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. His burning rage is barely contained at the best of times — and Tommy rarely has good times. It seems like each episode of RESCUE ME brings him a fresh hell (complete with literal flames). What Tommy hates most is himself, but he expresses it as hatred for everything and everyone else. What other TV character could have a fantasy about attacking his own father’s casket with an ax and then setting it afire at the funeral? Not even THE SHIELD’s Vic Mackey could get away with that. But this series has always had a particularly vicious dark side. I was not surprised to see Franco and Sean talk Mikey out of donating his $150,000 inheritance to the cancer society so the boys can open a bar instead. (Franco’s rationalization the the cancer society would only use the dough for postage to beg other people for more cash almost made it sound like a public service! Almost.) As usual, the boys at the 62 were thinking only of themselves. Yet, the search for redemption is a constant theme: Tommy’s love/hate relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous clashes with his romance with booze on a daily basis. Take last night: Tommy has been sober for almost a solid year, but his AA sponsor, cousin Mickey, went on a bender! And not just any bender — he rampaged into a church and told a family that instead of baptizing their baby, they would be better off taking the kid home and drowning it! And he drank booze out of the communion chalice!

Of course there are huge problems in the interpersonal relationships. Tommy met ex-wife Janet’s newest beau, a former “extreme sports” guy portrayed by Michael J. Fox. Ultimate nice guy Fox plays brilliantly against type as the smug Dwight; just wait until Tommy discovers why Dwight didn’t stand up to shake hands with him! As if that wasn’t bad enough, Tommy’s daughter Colleen is sleeping with (but not having sex with) blackSean; wait until Tommy finds out about that! Leary capped the episode with Tommy’s absolutely hilarious rant about how dead people (like his father) are reclassified as saints just because they died — even if they were a—holes in life (like his father).

The first thing I noticed about the first new episode of FRINGE since February was that it wasn’t on! Instead, I had to sit through the end of an extended episode of AMERICAN IDOL. Worse, I heard Adam Lambert mangle “Mad World.” He was attempting to riff on Gary Jules’ version of the Tears for Fears tune recorded for the soundtrack of Donnie Darko, a film I adore. (If you’ve never seen it, rent it!) Simon gave the squealer a standing ovation, which could only mean Simon didn’t like the movie. The phone number montage indicated that every performance last night was wretched. My hatred of “KARAOKE IDOL” now knows no bounds because the runover caused me to miss the end of FRINGE, because my recording stopped when it was supposed to. Is this hate irrational? Sure. But is this my blog? Yup. The second thing I noticed about the return of FRINGE was that the new promos trumpeted “six new episodes in a row.” Sounds good — unless you remember that back in February, Fox promised us seven episodes in a row.

Anyway, FRINGE was eventually allowed on the air, and concerned the case of a mysterious boy discovered alone in a locked underground chamber. Only he might not be a “young” boy. For one thing, he seemed to be an empath of low-level telepath, which allowed him to plug into Olivia’s mind and help her with a serial killer case. And for another, he looked like the Observer’s Mini-Me: pale and hairless. (How funny was it that they dressed the boy in a “Northwestern” sweatshirt and took him to the Harvard campus?) Erik Palladino (late of the late ER) was introduced as Elliot Michaels, who claimed to be from the Department of Social Services, but was really from the Department of Creepiness. After seeing the boy, made a mysterious call and told someone, “We may have found another one.” Is there some organization out there monitoring/collecting Observers?

•Line of the week honors go to Walter: “Unless you have an IQ higher than mine, I’m not interested in what you think.”

HEROES is still managing to hold my interest, thanks to giving HRG stuff to do. I like that the-powers-that-be continue to write him as intelligent. He was the only one who was skeptical that Danko really bagged Sylar, and even used the shapeshifter’s powers against him by pretending to be Sylar pretending to be him. Of course Sylar really is alive, and has set out to destroy Noah’s life. The baddie morphed into the likeness of Sandra and served Noah with divorce papers, then pretended to be a field commander and let HRG “kill” him to make Noah a fugitive. I know I just complained about Fox’s promos, but NBC did something even more unsavory: After a week of teasing/promising to reveal the origins of the Petrelli family, HEROES waited until literally the last minutes to set the stage for big revelations about something called Project: Icarus at a place called Coyote Sands. Next week. D’oh!

CASTLE was another agreeable story, but nothing extraordinary. And nothing really set it apart from last week’s chapter, either, which actually is not a good thing. Is it settling into a rut already?