By Ken Tucker
June 30, 2010 at 11:23 AM EDT

Dead or drunk: These seemed to be the primary ways we were meant to see Denis Leary’s Tommy Gavin in the new, sixth season of Rescue Me that premiered last night.

Dead: That’s how he started out, in a pre-credit sequence that followed up on last season’s Tommy-gets-shot cliffhanger. In Tommy’s unconscious vision, he’s a walking corpse surrounded by dead firefighters who rise up, including his cousin Jimmy, who accuses him: “On 9/11, you never came back to get me.”

Drunk: Tommy’s going off and on the wagon this season, with head-snapping quickness. Sometimes it’s a fake-0ut — see, that’s water, not vodka he’s guzzling — and sometimes it’s boozing in earnest.

Other subplots? Tommy’s firehouse may become a victim of the recession. Franco (Daniel Sunjata) has taken to helping Tommy’s “soon to be divorced” wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), at her house while Tommy has been recuperating. Naturally, Tommy is suspicious and jealous.

I always know when a Rescue Me hour isn’t working for me when I start having that old thought: “How can Tommy possibly maintain that fluffy feather-cut as a firefighter? A., I doubt a guy like Tommy could afford it, and b., that wispy hank ‘o’ hair would be the first thing singed when he enters a burning building.” If I find myself pondering the haircut again, I know Rescue Me is too Tommy-centric at that moment.

Basically, I want to see a whole lot more of the guys in the firehouse (Lou! Sean! Black Sean!), some non-Tommy plots, and a less of Callie Thorne’s Sheila. Thorne is a fine actor, but she’s been slowly, steadily, turned into a harpy on this show, and her renewed pestering of Tommy, demanding that he coax her son, Damien, to quit his budding firefighting career, are drama-stoppers. Same with Colleen (Natalie Distler) turning 21 and immediately beginning to down tumblers of gin — Distler has done of a fine job, over the years, of portraying a willful brat, but I’m getting tired of the character’s brattiness to the exclusion of any other behavior.

Because I’ve been able to view a few more episodes, I’m happy to report that things do pick up, very positively, in a number of the areas I mention above. Plus, Peter Gallagher is right around the corner, booked to do an arc as a tough priest.

But what did you think of this season-six premiere?

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