I grow weary of people who need to be treated to massive plot twists and cliffhangers to stay interested in a good television show. For example, The Sopranos was never bad. Ever. It had some years that were not as great as others but it was always kept buoyant by great acting, evolving storylines, and a foundation as strong as time itself. With that in mind, some people who seemingly needed every episode to be a masterpiece went on and on how lame the show had become before being “salvaged” by the final season. I feel the same way about people who bemoaned the last year of Rescue Me. Yes, there are characters who got the short shrift and some of the aspects of the show weren’t as pinpoint, but with this cast and Denis Leary and Peter Tolan putting memorable, funny, and touching moments throughout, it’s still not only worth seeing but worth recommending.

One of the funniest characters and portrayals in television. Too bad he parlayed it into AVP2.

For all the people rabid about the abysmal Heroes, the overblown House, M.D., and the good but seriously uneven Six Feet Under, there’s not many who really appreciate the blue collar greatness of Rescue Me.

I do. A lot.

When a package with DVDs of the first nine episodes of the upcoming season arrived, I was giddy. Not in a silly, dress up like the characters or write fanfic way but in the kind of way like a comfortable pair of shoes. The colorful and tightly knit cast, the excellent music, the humor and the venom, it’s all what makes this show such a treat.

“Who is this?”                                                   “Robocop 3.”

The first nine episodes are as follows:

1. Baptism
2. French
3. Wine
4. Jimmy
5. Sheila
6. Perspective
7. Play
8. Iceman
9. Thaw

This first chunk of the season sets the stage for some possibly new turns, as well as the return of the 9/11 undercurrents that the show was built upon.

The off-Broadway Manitou was slow to catch on but eventually won Mary Steenbergen raves for her postmodern Misquamicus.

I’ll avoid spoilers about last season as well as some of the events that befall Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary, co-creator and lead orchestrator of the show) and his not so merry men this season, but suffice it to say that there’s enough progress and fun to be had so as to hopefully silence the naysayers who feel that season four was a misfire.

When last we saw Tommy he had endured the loss of someone close to him, a death that we discover isn’t near as much a strain on his heartstrings as thought. There’s a lot of built-up resentment in Gavin, as evidenced by how he treats everyone around him, but seeing him unload some ancient baggage is a nice development and a showcase for Leary’s growth as an actor. Though the extended family (Tatum O’Neal, Terry Serpico, Patti D’Arbanville, and Lenny Clarke) is still around they’ve taken a back seat to the fire department chaps, which is a good thing. Gavin’s still facing permanent suspension from the department. He and his ex-wife still have that dangeous hate/hate/love thing going on. But the drinking has quieted and the ghosts of his dead friends as well, but how long can that last?

“This time of year I always get sick from all the Pollan.”

Hint: Fans of the old Tommy Gavin may get their fix.

The season introduces us to some new characters and also fully integrates Black Sean (Larenz Tate) into the ensemble as both a fireman and the man making the moves on Tommy’s daughter. The subplot is minor and never rises above the comic relief but the way Tommy deals with it does provide a comforting change of pace from other shows that explore not only interracial romance but also how a father deals with his own children’s sex lives.

Also new to the show is Michael J. Fox as the love interest for Tommy Gavin’s ex-wife, and the actor shines in a darker and more perverse role than we’re used to seeing him. His disability is also handed quite well and seeing how Fox is still vital with that signature twinkle in his eye does the show a great service. I won’t soon forget seeing Michael J. Fox discussing his erections in detail.

“If you are here to look like the lady from Series 7: The Contenders, then mission accomplished!”

Wide Sargasso Sea and The Firm alumni Karina Lombard returns from oblivion to play a woman interviewing firemen about the events of September 11th [2001, not 2008 you idiot], which results in a little posturing between the boys and a nice showdown between best friends Gavin and Kenny “Lou” Shea [John Scuri, he of impeccable comic timing]. The friendships between the firemen and their inane conversations have always been the lifeblood of the show and this season features some nice new facets to these men we’ve seen evolve in baby steps over the first four seasons.

Thus far I’ve appreciated how they’ve toned down the sexual identity issues of Mike Stiletti (Michael Lombardi). The character’s dim-wittedness has always kept the tone from getting too dark or maudlin and this season the character’s new role as bar owner creates some fun moments. There’s also an excellent confrontation between Mike and Franco (Daniel Sunjata) about 9/11 that helps keep the Stiletti character from feeling like a device. There’s a great payoff in the scene provided by the show’s secret weapon, Sean Garrity (Stephen Pasquale), which to me encapsulates the still-beating heart of Rescue Me: Serious issues buried under excellent characters and a wicked sense of humor.

Attractive. If the word MILF wasn’t so dumb I’d use it for her. Nightly.

The show isn’t perfect. The relationship between Gavin and his wife is an odd one that seems to change with the wind, which is fine and grounded in reality, but it often seems as if there needs to be some new angle to make the screen time worthwhile. An episode where the pair visit their daughter’s private school rings hollow and features a truly lame bit of sexual slapstick more suited to a Benny Hill show than a superlative FX drama.

Additionally, the presence of Sheila (the sly and attractive Callie Thorne) seems a bit forced too now that there’s always some woman for Gavin to bed and all of the time spent to her and her son absolutely derail the narrative. But, she’s cute so I can’t complain.

Robert John Burke gets to do some great stuff in these first nine episodes and I never tire of one of my favorite character actors serving as the glue for a show I love.

So, while there’s nothing Earth-shattering so far this season there’s always a great mix of laughs and drama and this dysfunctional group is extremely watchable rewarding, especially since FX’s other shows have recently either ended their run (The Shield) or descended completely into absurdity (Nip/Tuck). In a television landscape filled to the gills with genre shows, reality television, and tons of comedies that are extremely unfunny, this is one of the top products out there, and one seemingly still flying under the radar of too many.

I recommend this season for just about everyone based on this first salvo.

“Eh, Bill Hicks did this collage better before blahblahblahblahyawnyawnyawn.”

It’s going to be a long season. 22 episodes. But the first nine range from being merely entertaining to downright priceless, and for anyone to have given this show a season or two’s worth of time, this latest bit of work showcases that they’re not on autopilot in the least. Rumor has it next year (which has already been greenlit) is the last, and if this level of quality is maintained Rescue Me‘s going to have to be one of those shows people mention when they’re listing the truly classic television shows.

“Hit the brakes! You should be parkin’, son!”