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Published: Monday, 4/6/2009

Action-filled 'Rescue Me' finally returns after 19-month hiatus


UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - TV's best (only?) blue-collar drama, FX's Rescue Me, returns for its fifth season this week, 19 months after the last original episode premiered in September, 2007. Blame the writers' strike and FX programming strategy for the delay.

When viewers last saw New York firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary), his father had died in the seat next to him at a baseball game. Tommy, always on the verge of becoming unhinged, reacts angrily while another family member falls off the wagon.

In addition to Gavin-family psychodrama - emphasis on "psycho" - the show's emphasis remains, as always, on the firefighters in their off hours. Lt. Kenny "Lou" Shea (John Scurti) describes their often-profane firehouse conversations as "gripping exchanges of deep thought and personal wisdom." These include debates over whether it's better to lose an eye or a testicle.

Plots this season - which begins at 10 p.m. tomorrow - include a new boyfriend (guest star Michael J. Fox) for Tommy's estranged wife, Janet (Andrea Roth), and firehouse interviews by a French journalist (Karina Lombard) writing a book to be published to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

All 22 episodes in this season of Rescue Me will air over the coming 23 weeks, with the season finale slated for Sept. 8. A sixth season of 18 episodes already has been ordered.

Normally, the cable series only produces 13 episodes a season, but producers are not drained by this season's larger order.

"We're just full of ideas and energized in a way that we haven't been before, which is a shock to us," said executive producer/director Peter Tolan. That bodes well for the new season, necessarily so because some viewers and critics felt the fourth season disappointing. (Tommy threatening the life of a newborn? Really?)

"Most shows have a sophomore slump. We waited, I think, until our fourth year to do it," Tolan acknowledged at a January FX press conference. "Now, a slump for us I don't think is a marked difference in the quality of the show. I think it was a lack of focus. That's all."

Leary joked that it was planned.

"I think we did it on purpose so that we could have a [stinky] season and then this season would look so much better in comparison," he said.

One upcoming plot explores the belief held by firefighter Franco - and shared by the actor playing the role, Daniel Sunjata - that 9/11 was an inside job.

In next week's episode, Franco calls 9/11 "a massive neo-conservative effort that's been in the works for 20 years." "I think that the way the show addresses the issue is going to be socio-politically provocative," Sunjata said.

As far as limits on the show's often-outrageous plots, Leary could think of only one limit imposed by FX executives: His salary.

"I had a crazy idea of getting paid, like, $250,000 an episode," Leary said. "They put limits on that, let me tell you. That's Kiefer Sutherland money right there."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.

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