NOTE: IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN LAST WEEK'S "RESCUE ME," SKIP TO THE END.
The first time I saw the first ad for FX's "Rescue Me," I knew it was going to be something special.
Eight years later, I think it's going to go down as one of TV's all-time great shows. Did it have the consistency of "The Shield," or the stylishness of "Mad Men?" No.
What "Rescue Me" (FX, 10 p.m.) had was a great cast of loveable anti-heroes whom we pulled for in spite of their great many flaws, and perhaps because of them.
Tommy Gavin's (Denis Leary) real family and fire family became the viewer's extended family, and when the show was at its best, we personally felt the family's triumphs and tragedies. We got angry at them when they screwed things up because of too much drink or other issues, the same we would with our own family.
One scene for me bears this out: When Franco (Daniel Sunjata) starts spouting off 9/11 conspiracy theories, the guys in the house -- much like many viewers -- want to clobber the guy. But when a rival house shows up ready to pound Franco, the guys form a wall in front of him.
As Tommy tells the rival house, they actually agree with them and want to do the same thing. But they can't allow other people to come in and beat the guy up. "He's an a--hole, but he's our a--hole," Tommy explains. And, in the world they've created, it makes perfect sense.
When "Rescue Me" was on its game -- which was most of the time -- it was the funniest show on TV and the most tragic. Tommy had more tragedies than most people should have to deal with -- his cousin Jimmy died in one of the towers on 9/11; his brother Johnny, a cop, was killed in the line of duty; and his son, Connor, was killed by a drunk driver. Jimmy's son, Damien, was crippled during another fire after he decided to leave the service. The question isn't why Tommy drinks; the question is, why did he ever stop?
Now it seems the luck for Tommy and the rest of Ladder 62 has run out, with the guys trapped in a burning warehouse set by an arsonist. My reaction to last week was not so much fear for the guys as it was anger that they would die because of some idiot. Tommy and his friends may die over something pointless. When I see what they have all gone through over most of the decade, it makes me angry because those guys have become family. It's one thing if they die on the job where the fire just happened; it's another to see these guys possibly getting killed because of another person's selfishness.
Last week's episode, mixing the humor of the wedding with the tragedy of the final 10 minutes, was emblematic of the show's history: enjoy life while you can, because it can all go away in an instant.
If nothing else, what "Rescue Me" has done, at least for me, is give me real insight into the lives of first-responders -- not glamorizing it, not making people out to be saints, but showing them to be real folks who make the world a slightly better place. That was the real lesson of 9/11, and "Rescue Me" has done a perfect job preserving that legacy.
WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: Georgia fans are in for a treat as ESPNU airs a one-hour special on the life of Herschel Walker at 8 p.m. I saw Herschel on the sidelines during last week's game against Boise State, and he looks like $9 million. Seriously, someone who looks that good after age 50 only makes me feel worse about myself.
If you can't get enough of Callie Thorne, after you see her in the "Rescue Me" finale, you can also check out "Necessary Roughness" (USA, 10 p.m.) which has gotten better each week.
BBC America has a new "Law & Order: UK" at 9 p.m., followed by Part 4 of the six-part drama "The Hour."