Archive for the ‘9/11 10th anniversary’ Category

‘Rescue Me’ finale: Leary series goes out on top

September 8, 2011

R.I.P. Lt. Lou Shea: John Scurti in “Rescue Me” — his character was eulogized, hilariously, on the series finale Wednesday (Photo: FX)


NEW YORK, Sept. 8, 2011 — Tommy Gavin didn’t die.  Instead, it was Lou, his best friend and perhaps the most likable of all the characters on “Rescue Me.”

A tragedy to end the firefighters’ series run?  Yes, but not completely.  Though Lou’s death was certainly tragic, leaving all of his surviving colleagues to question their futures in the New York City Fire Department, most of the one-hour series finale seen on FX Wednesday night played like a comedy.

That happened to be this show’s signature: Premiering in July 2004 and ending its run this week as the nation prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “Rescue Me” at its heart was a drama about one New York firefighter’s reaction to the loss of 343 FDNY brethren in the collapse of the Twin Towers that day in 2001.  That’s a weighty subject, to be sure, but since that firefighter, Tommy, was played by comedian Denis Leary (who also co-created, co-wrote and co-produced the series), much of the series was given over to Leary’s dark sense of humor.

Such was the case in the finale Wednesday night titled “Ashes.”  The ashes in the title were all that remained of sweet Lou (played to perfection for all seven seasons by John Scurti) after he was killed a week earlier in a warehouse fire (the location recognizable to all who ride the New York subway system’s elevated No. 7 train through Long Island City in Queens).  The collapse of that building left the survival of any of the firefighters in question leading into the finale.

And as the final episode began, it seemed as if at least five of them had succumbed.  But no — it was a dream conjured by Gavin, a dream in which Lou was seen eulogizing the five men with a rousing speech about the nature of firefighting — a grand piece of screen-writing, by the way, as was much of this final episode.

Certainly, it had been speculated that Tommy himself would be among the dead — a novel and striking way to end a series: Having the all-important main character, who’d been seen in virtually every scene of the show for seven years, get killed off.

But it was Lou who died, and his sendoff was a masterpiece, particularly in the choreography of the sequence in which two windows in Tommy’s SUV were opened simultaneously — because Tommy ordered Franco and Black Shawn to toss out their chewing gum — and the sudden cross-ventilation caused Lou’s ashes to suddenly explode out of their box, covering driver, passengers and the entire interior of the vehicle with his earthly remains.

Then, in a perfectly balanced combination of sentiment and black comedy, Tommy poignantly read a letter left to him by Lou (in case of Lou’s death), and then tossed his “ashes” — actually a box of Betty Crocker cake mix that Lou’s brethren bought at the 11th hour to stand in for his ashes — over a cliff and into the sea (it looked like Long Island Sound).

Other scenes were laden with comedy too, such as the scene where Tommy, contemplating life as an FDNY retiree, battles with a group of parents at a politically correct playground (filmed in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City, about half a block from the World Trade Center site) over the sharing of kids’ toys in the sandbox.  Forget about “Rescue Me” — that was like a scene out of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” only better.

In the end, Tommy didn’t retire, but nor did he assume Lou’s lieutenant’s role, which was his right as senior firefighter in the house.  Instead, he let the promotion go to the gung-ho Franco.

As the episode came to a close, Franco and Tommy were seen exhorting a group of new FDNY recruits on the meaning of belonging to a select group of people of run toward and into burning buildings when everyone else is running out and away from them.

In the show’s touching last scene, Tommy was seen behind the wheel of his SUV having a jovial conversation with an old friend seated in the passenger seat — the ghost of Lou.

This episode was one of the best-written episodes of any single TV show seen in years.  Our hope for Leary and his team is that they get recognized for it.

Dennis Leary in “Rescue Me” (Photo: FX)

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9/11 commemorative TV shows? I think I’ll pass

September 7, 2011

BEFORE: In this light-hearted postcard from before 9/11/2001, the World Trade Center was just another landmark on the New York City skyline. (Source: Author’s collection of World Trade Center postcards.)


NEW YORK, Sept. 7, 2011 — You can’t escape 9/11 on TV this week, though it would be nice if you could.

Turn on the tube and there it is, all served up on multiple channels so you can have the opportunity to relive the horror of that day:  The visual — as impossible to believe then as it is now 10 years later — of airliners flying directly into each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the resultant smoke pouring out of the gaping holes after the great buildings seemed to swallow the big jets, the poor souls who chose to jump a hundred stories to their deaths rather than be burned alive, the eventual collapse of each tower and the debris clouds that overwhelmed lower Manhattan and billowed out over the Hudson River.

Want to wallow in the memory of it all?  Go right ahead, but I think I’ll pass.  I have no need to relive that day and the days that followed, though judging from all the special retrospective material now airing in advance of this Sunday’s 10th anniversary, plenty of people seem to have a need to relive it, and also to talk about it, to tell the rest of us where they were when it happened, what they felt then and how they feel about it now, how the terrorist sneak attacks changed “us,” and on and on.

I guess I’m not much of a wallower.  I was at home when the attacks occurred, two miles up Greenwich Street from the Twin Towers.  And that’s all you’re going to learn about what I experienced that day.  If offered a microphone by a roving reporter from a local radio or TV station to relate my experiences for broadcast, I would politely decline.  But plenty of people around here are saying yes to such invitations.  If you live in New York, you’re seeing and hearing their testimony all over the place these days in commemorative segments on all the news shows and cable channel specials.

Local newscasts this week can’t go to a commercial break without a 9/11 interlude — some somber music and the words “Remembering 9/11” on the screen, and a brief interview with some passerby who tells us how he or she was on his or her way to work downtown that day and saw the planes hit or, less dramatically, still soaking in a tub somewhere else, perhaps not anywhere near any of the 9/11 attack sites at all, hearing the shocking bulletins on the radio or TV.

These people seem to find the opportunity to tell their stories impossible to resist — a way of thinking in line with social trends.  Everyone wants to tell his or her own story these days, right?  So they take to Facebook and Twitter and tell everyone they know what they’re eating right now.

Not me, though.  My 9/11 memories are private.  My feelings about that day are too.  Sorry, but it’s just nobody’s business.   I’ll admit this: I’m not big on anniversaries as a basis for TV commemorations.  Maybe it’s because I once had an editor, when I was at a formative age, who prohibited anniversary stories.  It wasn’t real news, he’d say, whenever a reporter came to him with a pitch from a TV network publicist ballyhooing some milestone reached by a TV show — a fifth season, or a 100th episode, or the 20th consecutive week as TV’s top comedy or drama.

As news “hooks,” such milestones were contrivances unworthy of our stations as journalists.  I got his point, and I agreed with it too.  However, you’d be correct to point out that this 9/11 anniversary is more notable than some TV show’s fifth week as the top-rated comedy on Thursday nights.

Judging by all the hours of TV programming that have been produced for the occasion, the people running the nation’s TV stations, broadcast networks and cable channels must believe the public is eager to share in a kind of telethon of national remembrance.  But you also can’t help wondering at times such as this if all the programming produced for the occasion begets all the interest, instead of the other way around.

Or, to put it another way, if TV didn’t pull out all the stops to present you with constant reminders of 9/11 this week, would you miss it?

AFTER: World Trade Center postcard from after 9/11/2001 — the late great Twin Towers draped in elongated American flags. (Author’s collection)

Contact Adam Buckman:

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