NEW YORK — “Rescue Me” has been playing with fire since the start.
This FX drama has dared to picture New York City firefighters as loutish, madcap and self-destructive — not just heroic. At its core is Denis Leary, whose titles on the show include co-creator, co-executive producer and writer, plus his starring role as Tommy Gavin, a flawed champion among New York’s Bravest.
After much too long, “Rescue Me” returns for its fifth season at 10 tonight, kicking off an extra-long run of 22 episodes.
As always, it’s a volatile mix of action, heart, raciness and dark humor.
Though the series has a raw topicality, it’s rooted in the ruins of 9/11. Among Tommy’s fellow firefighters who lost their lives that day, a cousin (and Tommy’s best friend) died at ground zero, later haunting him in visions.
This season, Tommy’s wounds are reopened (and his hackles raised) when a sexy French journalist arrives at the firehouse, researching the tragedy for a coffee-table book to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorists attacks.
Guest stars have always sparked “Rescue Me,” and this season is no different. First up: Michael J. Fox in a multiepisode arc gets under Tommy’s skin as the obnoxious guy dating Tommy’s estranged wife.
But there are also fires to put out, of course. This explains why production crew, equipment and firefighters (some real, some make-believe) have descended on a block of Manhattan’s West 121st Street on a frigid January night.
This sequence, from an episode to air late this season, will show the men of 62 Truck responding to a call at a blazing brownstone. It will also introduce a character played by guest star Maura Tierney, who pulls up in a cab to find her home on fire, then defies Tommy’s efforts to bar her entry with a swift kick to his privates. (Can romance be far behind?)
Tierney isn’t around. Her scenes were shot the night before. The entire location shoot will span three nights.
“We haven’t even gone in the building yet,” says Leary, clomping around in his full firefighting outfit, “and we’ve been here half the evening already.”
The block is bathed by lights mounted high on a cherry-picker, dousing the brownstone’s exterior. The street is barricaded so the fire engine (this one is owned by the show) can rush to its destination unimpeded. Meanwhile, a “real,” on-duty NYFD truck is parked out of sight around the corner. Every step of this fire scene has been authorized and is being supervised by the department.
“Even though it’s fake fires that we’re creating, it’s real flame and smoke, with safety issues,” Leary notes.