The ''Rescue Me'' season premiere: After the fire
Cats trapped in a warehouse, peppermint schnapps, propane, and porn: just a few of the combustible ingredients in the superheated fourth-season kickoff to FX's dizzyingly smart (and smartly infuriating) summer series Rescue Me. Cue up the Von Bondies and kick back while we sift through the embers from last season's beach-house conflagration and stir the roiling cauldron of piety and profanity, wit and torment, tenderness and ferocity, that engulfs Tommy, the Gavin clan, and the denizens of Ladder 62.
First, the cats in the warehouse. Only a series as knotty and risky as Rescue Me could take an ''awwwww'' premise (firefighters rescuing stranded kitties), mine it for randy double entendres, and then poof! literally pull the floor out from under Tommy and Co. (and the viewer). What should have been a moment of heart-stopping terror then morphed into an extended slo-mo punk-rock video montage, culminating in a too-miraculous escape via a collapsing wall. Was this mere self-indulgence on the part of the show's producers, an instance of ''Hey, look what we can do''? Or was the cat sequence a sly, furry wink back to the Meerkat Manor episode that Tommy is so fixated on? Stranger still, the concluding punchline (Franco's suavely using his narrow escape from death to inveigle a distracted Natalie into some nookie) came off as a macabre instance of whistling past the graveyard.
The peppermint schnapps, vomited by Colleen onto the floor in front of her outraged dad, is a telling reminder that dysfunction runs deep in the family genome. As an eerily blasé Janet drily noted, ''Check the birth certificate. The name's Gavin.'' Will the formerly born-again Colleen carry on her father's wastrel ways and disrupt Tommy and Janet's carefully constructed ''platonic'' living arrangement? Was Tommy shocked by Colleen's carousing or miffed that she and her mother have kept him in the dark? Daddy's drunken little girl shines a light on Tommy and Janet's own teen years, whose psychic scars linger long after Freddy Fender and Pet Rocks have faded away.
Propane, that colorless, odorless gas, was the subject of a disquisition by the truly hapless interim firehouse chief (nicely underplayed by series cocreator Peter Tolan). Aside from highlighting his inability to communicate with Tommy and his crew, the interim chief's tendency toward non sequiturs also contrasts with the cool decisiveness of the newly reenergized Reilly, on the rebound after his near-fatal heart attack last season. Reilly's physical and psychic recovery, along with his Solomonic resolution of the firehouse hockey-hoops dilemma, came off as a little forced and unconvincing. Is he really so reconciled to his son's sexuality that he would readily agree to serve as best man at Pete's upcoming commitment ceremony? (Or is recuperation from a coronary a cure for deep-seated homophobia?)
And oh yes, the porn. More specifically, Maggie's porn. What was truly amazing wasn't the gender reversal (which gave Tatum O'Neal a chance to dust off some ferocious comic chops) but the realization that Sean and Maggie's graveside marriage has actually lasted all of nine months. Will these two find their way to divorce court (possibly with the help of Tommy's oily cousin Eddie), or is Sean hopelessly addicted to the whiff of danger that hovers about Tommy's manic sister?
Add that head-scratcher to the roster of puzzles bursting out of this dazzling, sharply written, often baffling episode. Help me out here, please: How can Sheila remain calm, collected, and seemingly unremorseful after nearly killing Tommy? Why is Tommy so hesitant about having dinner with the hot volunteer firefighter who saved his life? Will she turn out to be another schemer like Sheila, or as impulsively oversexed as Lou's ex-nun squeeze? (Will Lou be excommunicated for their Opie-and-Anthony-ish antics?) Why is Tommy so eager to believe Janet's baby is his and not Johnny's? Because he has more of a connection with ''Little No-Name'' than with Colleen? The sparks are flying.