Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Rescue Me, "Sheila": Nightmares and dreamscapes

Tonight's "Rescue Me" was the last of this season's episodes that I watched in a quick burst back in January, so I'll offer up some very brief thoughts after the jump, and, time permitting, we can go a little deeper starting next week...

"Sheila" was, I thought, the strongest of these first five. While I think the series overdoes Tommy dream sequences in general, his nightmare of suitcase bombs and 9/11-style dust falling all over the city was effectively disturbing, and felt nicely tied to the renewed focus on the falling towers. Beyond that, the writers continue to rehabilitate characters who had turned into nothing but broad (and often annoying) comic relief, as Garrity is diagnosed with kidney cancer from his time working at Ground Zero, while Sheila gets a look at the 9/11 footage of Jimmy and makes peace with Damian's decision to join the FDNY. (And enlists Mike to be his mentor, a very promising idea for the former probie.)

When I complained about the bar and some of the other comic scenes last week, some readers suggested that they needed the laughs as relief from the more intense scenes. I don't disagree on that broad point. What made "Rescue Me" so good in its early days was its mix of the utterly tragic and the completely silly. My problem came when certain characters became nothing but walking punchlines, so stupid (Garrity, Mike) or crazy (Sheila), that they ceased to resemble actual human beings, and suddenly the joke wasn't funny anymore. Sean getting cancer isn't going to make him stop being funny, but it's also going to make those funny scenes more effective, because I again get to believe that he's a person and not just an excuse for cheap laughs. Great work from Steven Pasquale, who's rarely (if ever) been asked to go to a dark place like he did tonight. And this is two weeks in a row where I didn't really hate Sheila.

And a good chunk of the episode's comedy came from a good source in the return of Michael J. Fox as crazy Dwight. One of the many shames of Fox's Parkinson's diagnosis is that he doesn't have the time, or focus, or both, to perform much anymore, and a character like this is a reminder of what a great comic actor he is. This is a weirder character than he usually plays, and he's absolutely nailing it, with Denis Leary graciously playing straight man to him most of the time.

What did everybody else think?


So Cal said...

Not on topic at all but don't know where else to put it...

David Simon's "Treme" has been picked up by HBO!



lap said...

That interview scene with Shelia was really great. It was candid and down to earth in a way we've never seen Sheila be, even in early seasons. Even the more familiar Sheila that was present with Damian was still palatable..

Anonymous said...

Whoever the actress is (too tired to IMDB), that plays Sheila, should get an Emmy nom. As Alan noted, she was playing this cartoonish character (quite well), and her scenes tonight were just magnificant. From the lunch with her son, to finally admitting she wished Tommy had died instead of Jimmy, a complete 180 from the other material she's been given. Her transistion was a testament to her acting ability.

Oaktown Girl said...

Alan, I agree with everything you said about the show and this season, so I've got nothing to add to your "big picture" assessment.

What got to me most about this episode was thinking about Garrity trying to face cancer without the help and support of the people closet to him. How tragic is that? And as I'm typing this, it's reminding me of this season's In Treatment, for obvious reasons.

Vic said...

I agree with the above comment that Callie Thorne (Sheila) has come a long way. I went from absolutely hating her in Homicide to tolerating her in The Wire to really enjoying her performance in this episode of Rescue Me.

Stacie said...

Callie Thorne's performance took my breath away.

Anonymous said...

i know this show likes to go to extremes a lot of the time, but i really thought the michael j. fox driving scene was just way too over the top.

callie thorne was really good in that last scene, and the look she had on her face when she mentioned that she wished tommy was dead instead of jimmy was a bit chilling.

back to the extremes angle again, i certainly hope they're not going to do an arc where sheila tries to kill tommy.

other than that, i liked this episode.

erin said...

I thought Callie Thorne was a revelation in the last scene--and if I were her, I'd be pretty aggravated that I've been given nothing but "hysterical widow" to work with for the last few seasons. They made her such a caricature, and she has so much potential for such a deeper storyline. It really encapsulated hers and Tommy's relationship and just how fragmented and damaged it has always been. Really beautiful.

Really could not care less about Colleen--she's not a good actress and she and Larenz Tate have no chemistry. I don't pay attention when they are on the screen.

Enjoyed Tommy as straight man to MJF. Defnitely liked that Tommy and Janet could have a reasonable conversation without them trying to kill each other.

Poor Garrity.

The actors really stepped it up this week!

brando said...

I thought it was a solid episode.

While I admittedly laughed during the drinkin' and drivin' scene, I thought Leary and the writers missed a golden opportunity to exploit the subtext about Tommy's son being run down by a drunk driver.

SJ said...

^ It's like the series has forgotten that Tommy's son and brother have died.

That last scene was great...and yes it was chilling when Sheila said Tommy should have died instead.

Sonia said...

I finally got to watch this On Demand last night. I thought Sheila's interview was chilling, sad -- very well done by Callie Thorne.

I was also surprised that the writers didn't make a connection to Dwights drinking and driving with Tommy's son being killed by a drunk driver. Maybe that's what they were doing when Tommy declared that Katie wouldn't be living in the same house as "that junkie" -- but I think they could have been more direct. Also, what is Janet thinking? Weird...Sheils is becoming more palatable and Janet is becoming more irritating.

MJF was great -- his constant twitching (from his Parkinson's I assume) was kinda distracting at first, but it really fits with the character -- what a train wreck Dwight is.

Hate the Colleen and Black Shawn storyline.

Garrity having cancer is so sad -- and even more sad since he's going to try and face this alone. sigh.

So far, I'm enjoying this season...but I wonder where they are going with this Jimmy thing?? Either I'm being dense, or I just don't see what difference it makes which tower he was in. Is it that he is even braver than originally thought because KNOWING that one tower already collapsed, he STILL went into the second tower to help dspite the extreme likelihood of THAT tower collapsing as well? Even so, I don't get it.

James Kang said...

I don't know what to make of this episode. I agree that the overly stupid Garrity and the overly hysterical Sheila aren't very interesting characters but taking those dark moments those characters had in this episode didn't sit well with me. From what we've seen on the show, Garrity routinely says stupid things and expresses himself badly but when he finds out he has cancer, we're supposed to believe he can speak articulately? I didn't believe that scene.

Same thing with Sheila. She's extremely scatterbrained but when she's asked to recall her memories of Jimmy's death, she became a world-class speaker. And the thing is, I loved that scene. I think it's probably the best five minutes of television I've seen all year. But they cheated to get there, which is why I'm not sure how I feel about the show at the moment.

There's a difference between showing a new side to a character and writing them out of character and I think those scenes contradicted the previous portrayals of those two rather than add new layers to them.

Whiskey said...

wow, I'm so not in the same boat as some of the other commenters WRT to how the writers took Garrity & Sheila from charicatures to serious characters. I guess I've just been around some real whacked out people... See, watching the guys at the firehouse, including Garrity, reminds me so much of the constant sex talk I had to endure/survive while working in the male-dominated field of telecomm. Of course, in my case they couldn't talk that way in the office, but step out of the building for lunch and all that stuff was normal conversation. That didn't take away from the fact that at least some of them could have a deep thought or two, or even non-shallow feelings in a crisis or one-on-one sitch. I've always had affection for his character, so I hope his cancer story will be written well.

As for Sheila, I've known women who were/are college professors and were just as obsessive, insane & dysfunctional as the character has been written. That monologue from her at the end had me in tears. The actress nailed it, down to the little wry smile when she talked about how she *knew* Jimmy hadn't died in the first tower collapse, how she felt her whole world collapsed with the second tower. When someone you love unequivocally dies, and you feel like everything inside you has suddenly been sucked into a vacuum... she nailed that in her voice and her face.

And for what it's worth, for all her crazyness, I've always preferred Sheila over Janet. I also agree that Colleen & Black Shawn have no chemistry, so I'm glad that it looks like the relationship will be ending soon.

Tommy being the straight man to MJF was pretty funny in a weird way, just like MJF dropping all kind of nastyness out of his mouth was funny-weird. The drunk driving scene was too much tho and almost made me turn it off.

Whiskey said...

Oh, I also wanted to comment on this from Alan:

"One of the many shames of Fox's Parkinson's diagnosis is that he doesn't have the time, or focus, or both, to perform much anymore"

it's actually EXHAUSTING for people with advanced Parkinson's to work, and MJF said as much in his interview with EW recently --that his filming on Rescue Me required a lot of flexibility around his physical requirements. Even on the best meds, it's actually amazing to see how much he does get done. So, just a little quibble on how the quoted statement was worded, Alan. I'm not sure if you realized it wasn't other commitments that were keeping him away from more TV appearances. MJF does have the time & focus, he just doesn't have the physical stamina, and not many shows have shooting schedules that are flexible enough to accomodate his needs.