Cancer. Drug use. Mammary autographing. Christmas-flavored vomit. All appear in the fourth-season premiere of the dramedy Rescue Me, which tracks the frequently less-than-heroic activities of a fictional New York firehouse crew. Actually, all appear before the opening credits, which serves as a reminder that Rescue Me co-creator, co-writer, and star Denis Leary is not a man afraid to investigate life’s less wholesome avenues. True, there is nothing here as shocking as the scene from last season in which Leary’s alcoholic firefighter, Tommy Gavin, rapes his own wife (Andrea Roth). But there are plotlines about a nymphomaniac nun and the sex drive of a mentally challenged man, and Gavin finds himself facing the possibility of a spell behind bars — although not, significantly, for the aforementioned sex crime.
For those who like their comedy coal black, Rescue Me remains scabrously funny, thanks principally to the motormouthed Leary and to Tatum O’Neal, who just gets better and better as Gavin’s nutjob of a sister. But the show has become even more deft at jackknifing from jollity to deadly serious depictions of the risks its (anti)heroes take while fighting fires. Indeed, there is a point in this episode when you genuinely believe Leary has followed through on an idea he floated to EW last year about the series abruptly terminating midseason with most of the cast dead in a blaze. That would make for some unforgettable TV. But it would also rob us of a show that is a long way from burning out. A-