Denis Leary would appear to be a walking paradox. He's fiercely funny, terribly angry, and one of the most outspoken comedians of his generation -- but beneath all the bitterness is a humanitarian with an impressive level of commitment. As the founder of the non-profit Leary Firefighters Foundation, he's raised nearly three million dollars for fire departments in Boston and New York City and has helped support post-Katrina rescue and clean-up efforts in Louisiana. He's also responsible for launching the Fund for New York's Bravest, a group that's given over two million dollars to the families of firefighters killed in the September 11th attacks.
His inherent dual-nature is on full display in 'Rescue Me,' the critically acclaimed television series readying its fourth season on the FX network. Leary plays a temperamental firefighter named Tommy Gavin -- a man whose fury has destroyed his personal life. Completely invested in a thankless job that few people understand, Tommy is most stable when he's at the firehouse, bantering with his war-weary Chief (Jack McGee), his close friend Lou (John Scurti), his sister's clueless boyfriend Sean (Steven Pasquale), a protégé named Franco (Daniel Sunjata), and a bumbling rookie everyone calls "Probie" (Mike Silletti).
However, outside of the firehouse Tommy can barely keep his head above water. His children are drifting away, his father (Charles Durning) falling prey to senility, and his brother (Dean Winters) is trying to stoke a relationship with his ex-wife (Andrea Roth). To top off all the madness, Tommy still frequently has visions of the dead -- he's visited by his dead cousin (James McCaffrey), haunted by glimpses of his son (Trevor Heins), and plagued by random victims who have perished in fires.
It all may sound like just a series of excuses to put Leary's character through the most devious ringer imaginable, but it actually plays quite well. As presented, Tommy is like a karmic vacuum, with his addictions and his anger fueling the startling events in his life. With that being said, the real meat of the show lives in the firehouse when the firefighters sit around waiting for their next call. The dialogue is sharp and the situations are often hilarious (if occasionally a bit too over-the-top for their own good). Fans of the show won't bat an eye at any of the eccentricities in season three, but newcomers may feel a bit overwhelmed. There's a vast reservoir of characters, backstories, and plotlines that are likely to confuse those who haven't seen the series' first two seasons.
Some critics grilled season three because they thought the show glorified rape and justified domestic violence. I think people who felt this way may have had a difficult time navigating the thin line between comedy and drama present throughout the show. While season three certainly presents a series of harsh plotlines, these extremes are employed to continue grounding each episode in the whirlwind of Tommy's mind. Everything his character doles out is hurled back at him in some fashion over the course of the season. I might be more willing to consider the use of these elements as a glorification if the show didn't work so hard to bombard Tommy with the consequences of his decisions. And to be fair, people enveloped by alcohol, drugs, and grief often behave in an irrational and self-destructive manner -- the show would arguably be perceived as trite if it presented things any other way.
All in all, the third season of 'Rescue Me' continues to deliver a brilliant character study cloaked in the guise of a comedy. Some people may have a difficult time groking the intended tone of the show, but fans are sure to appreciate this season's further development of its characters and story. Either way, I can guarantee there are moments here that will make you laugh and moments that will leave you staring at the screen in shock.
'Rescue Me' isn't known for its aesthetically pleasing visuals -- the show's cinematography is intentionally grainy, gritty, and murky. Still, this Blu-ray release is technically impressive and has a lot to offer fans of the show who've only experienced the dull and blocky broadcast or the noticeably compressed DVDs of the first two seasons.
Generously spread over four dual-layer Blu-ray discs, Sony present 'Rescue Me' in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The base palette of the show is purposefully washed of vibrance, but flames and other elements of color leap off the screen. Black levels are also very impressive and add a welcome depth to the imagery. Fine object detailing tends to be hit-or-miss in scenes in low lighting, but is otherwise solid. I was also happy with the visual consistency from episode to episode -- I've had small issues with other shows released on high-def where some episodes look better than others.
For the most part, the image is very clean and stable. I did, however, catch a few instances of artifacting -- grain levels erratically spike at times, contrast tends to drift between too high and too low, and skin texture isn't always as detailed as I've come to expect from high-def releases. Luckily, these problems are only mildly bothersome and the overall presentation looks very good considering the realistic limitations of the show's visual style.
Much like the video, the audio presentation of 'Rescue Me' isn't likely to sell any high-end surround equipment -- the sound design is intentionally packed with natural ambiance, loose recordings, and sometimes unintelligible instances of dialogue. However, this sound mix does a great job of creating an immersive atmosphere with a convincingly realistic soundfield.
Featuring a robust uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (4.6 Mbps), 'Rescue Me' is full of natural surround movement, rich ambient environments, and a lot of acoustic variety. There's also a thinner Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (640 kbps), but it doesn't even come close to the uncompressed track. The elements that set the PCM mix apart from the television pack are the heavy bass tones, the clear treble pitches, and the reliability of the channel accuracy. I loved the fact that the New York streets actually sound like New York -- the alleys are alive with activity and no efforts have been made to lessen the presence of random sounds.
Scenes where the firefighters have to work their way through tall buildings are perhaps the most impressive -- effects echo down stairways and flames crackle in the distance. When the men arrive at the source of each fire, the soundscape suddenly swims with chaos and tense panic. While I would normally knock a mix for this sort of muddled prioritization, the lost voices and shuffled soundscape in these scenes only adds to the disorienting nature of the on-screen drama.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of air noise present during many of the street scenes (a consequence of the open-environment recording I complimented earlier) and a few sound effects aren't rendered very well in the soundscape (splintering wood, for example). Channel movement tends to be a tad harsh and suffers slightly from a lack of subtlety. But nevermind these nitpicks -- 'Rescue Me' sounds great on Blu-ray, and is only hindered by the nature of the show's sound design.
The supplemental features on this Blu-ray edition of 'Rescue Me: The Complete Third Season' are spread evenly across each of the included four discs. The added material is a nice addition to the proceedings, but unfortunately lacks the depth that episode commentaries might have provided. Also be aware that the video features are presented in 480i/p with the MPEG-2 codec.
Disc One features the most significant feature -- a behind-the-scenes featurette called "Behind the Smoke" (25 minutes). It includes on-set interviews and plenty of interesting tidbits from series co-creator Peter Tolan. The quick chats held with the actors are the most revealing as each one talks about the dark themes of the show and their character's motivations. The first disc also includes a "Location Tour" (9 minutes) that is divided into nine shorts that take a look at the sets, a "Rescue Me Comedy Short" (13 minutes) that's a laugh-out-loud over-the-top subplot that spoofs horror films, and the first installment of nearly twenty minutes worth of deleted scenes that distributed across the four disc set.
Disc Two packs less punch, including a few lighter featurettes plus more deleted scenes. "Being Denis Leary" (3 minutes) is a mildly amusing mock-interview with Leary's stand-in on the show. It would've been funnier if it wasn't so reminiscent of the 'Mission Impossible 2' short starring Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller that was made for the MTV Movie Awards. "Going to the Gay Place" (5 minutes), on the other hand, is definitely worth a watch. It details a practical joke the crew played on Denis Leary and includes hidden camera footage of the prank itself. The setup is too involved and complicated to explain without ruining the laughs, but make sure to take a look at this one.
Disc Three features my favorite supplemental material of the bunch (plus a few more deleted scenes). "The Bravest Traditions" (6 minutes) is a brief historical overview of the beginnings of the New York City Fire Department and explores the generational impact the department has had over the years. "Fighting Fires in a Vertical City" (6 minutes) details the unique challenges a large city presents to firemen who risk their lives every day. Both featurettes are more solemn than the series itself and they feature interviews with real veteran firefighters who work as consultants on 'Rescue Me.'
Disc Four returns to funnier fare, as well as including the last batch of deleted scenes. This disc features a "Season Three Gag Reel" (6 minutes) with typical blunders and mistakes, a candid footage featurette titled "Behind the Hose" (9 minutes), and a ridiculously short "Sneak Peek at Season Four" (1 minute) which shows less far less than the commercials currently running on FX.
'Rescue Me' is the type of television show that people seem to either love or hate. A dark comedy with well-developed characters and witty dialogue, if you haven't seen seasons one and two, this may be a tough one to jump into mid-stream, but fans of the series will be excited to see that it doesn't lose steam in its third season. As a Blu-ray release, this one's quite strong -- the video and audio quality are both impressive, and while the supplemental package is far from monumental, it least it's fun.