One-note act from Leary in `Rescue'

He plays firefighter coping after 9/11


July 21, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

As the nation continues to struggle with the meaning of 9/11, so does television reflect that tension.

On Monday, TNT debuted The Grid, a limited series featuring Julianna Margulies and Dylan McDermott as one kind of new American hero, the counter-terrorism agent as crime-fighter trying to tame the international frontier of al-Qaida. Tonight comes another variation on the post-9/11 theme in the form of the wounded hero, as portrayed by Denis Leary in the new FX drama Rescue Me.

The 13-week series about life inside a New York City firehouse features Leary as Tommy Gavin, a senior member of the crew trying to cope with the psychic demons of 9/11 that seem to haunt his every waking moment. There is little doubt that Gavin is clinically depressed and suffers from post-traumatic stress - as do most of his co-workers who survived the World Trade Center attacks. Worse, he's trying to keep the inner torment hidden.

Once the first rescue worker into a burning building, Gavin now suffers loss of nerve when the fire bell rings. He has to beat back the fear with a couple of hits off a hip flask. Gavin drinks a lot. He also carries on running conversations with dead people, particularly with his best friend and cousin, Jimmy Keefe (James McCaffrey), killed on 9/11 when the towers fell.

Gavin is falling apart, too, as a husband and father. Recently separated from his wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), Gavin moves into a house across the street from her. He says he's staying nearby to provide stability for the couple's three children, but in the pilot, at least, Gavin spends most of his time at home spying on her and her new boyfriend, an investment banker. Now that he's free to pursue other women, Gavin says he's "too conflicted" to act when an invitation to sex is offered.

Conflicted doesn't start to describe the psychology of Tommy Gavin. He's a time bomb of rage with the fuse all but burned away. It's a role tailor made for Leary, not surprising since he is one of the creators and executive producers of the series. But as perfect as Leary is in some ways to play the wounded and angry working man in midlife crisis, it is a one-note act.

Leary is simply not an actor capable of other notes, let alone nuance. Anyone who saw him in the ABC cop series The Job has seen this character.

Maybe the resonance that Gavin is intended to have with residual feelings from 9/11 will help Rescue Me find the kind of audience that The Job didn't. But usually it doesn't work that way. First, viewers have to believe in and come to care about the character as a human being before they connect with what he or she represents on a symbolic level. Maybe Leary will make us believe as the season wears on, but it isn't happening tonight.

To see a video of David Zurawik's review and clips of Rescue Me, go to baltimore

Rescue Me

When: Tonight at 10

Where: FX

In brief: Denis Leary is a New York City firefighter coping with the psychic wounds of 9/11.

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