New ‘Rescue Me’ Season Is TV’s Grittiest Hangover

Have you heard the news? Tommy Gavin is still drunk.

If this strikes you as a classic “dog bites man” story (that’s old newspaper-speak for a story that is so unsurprising that it doesn’t even remotely qualify as news), then you’ve probably been watching ‘Rescue Me‘ for its last five seasons.

Of course Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) is drunk. He’s an alcoholic. His battle with the bottle has been this series’ central, unresolved issue ever since its first season, and it continues to be unresolved as this dramatic series about New York City firefighters starts its sixth season Tuesday night (6/29) at 10 (eastern time) on FX.

Feeling hungover? Sure – after all this time, you might say this alcoholism story line is getting a little long in the tooth. And you’d be right. Though I’ve never actually lived with a drunk or an addict of any kind, I understand from my careful study of TV’s addiction shows – ‘Intervention‘ on A&E and ‘Addicted‘ on TLC – that living with an alcoholic or substance-abuser can be very trying.

I’ve learned from these shows (for which I happen to have developed a strong habit) that addicts can be very selfish. They thoughtlessly sponge (or outright steal) money from their loved ones to feed their habits and they lie constantly about where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to. Their constant scheming wears down their family members until they become so sick of the addicts in their midst that they stage these now-or-never interventions to try and steer these addicts into rehab.

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That’s sort of how I feel now about living with Tommy Gavin for five seasons, going on a sixth. The scheming, the drinking, the failed attempts to mend fences with his family members – like the moms, dads and siblings of addicts you see on “Intervention,” I’m worn out from it. But I fear that the producers and writers of “Rescue Me” must believe that if they actually have Tommy successfully getting off the sauce, then they might have no show, since his alcohol addiction is the underpinning of everything that happens on this series. Or maybe he really is going to quit this season. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Tommy continues to struggle with alcohol through the new season’s first four episodes, which FX provided for preview.

At least he’s alive. As season five ended, Tommy had been shot by his Uncle Teddy (Lenny Clarke), who held him responsible for the death of Teddy’s wife (Patti D’Arbanville), who died in a car crash after drinking with Tommy. It should come as no surprise that Tommy survives, though – he’s the show’s main character. Without Tommy (and by extension, Denis Leary), then you’d really have no show.

The truth is, alcoholic storylines are tougher to put across than they used to be. The days when drunks were funny, lovable or otherwise entertaining are long gone. You probably couldn’t get a movie like “Arthur” (in which Dudley Moore played a lovable drunk) made today. Nor could you likely get away with writing a character such as Otis (Hal Smith), the Mayberry town drunk of the old “Andy Griffith Show,” into scenes simply for their comic relief.

Tommy Gavin’s alcoholism is no laughing matter either, which is understandable. I just wish the producers of “Rescue Me” (one of whom is Denis Leary) would come up with a way to get Tommy off booze. It would give him a much-needed break from all his suffering. We viewers could use a break too. Are you with me or against me on this? Let me know what you think.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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