Denis Leary’s further misadventures in gravitas

I used to assistant teach a graduate seminar in video production, during which an associate professor, a technical instructor and myself would spend an entire academic year helping a group of anthropologists and cinema studies geeks produce a series of short documentaries.  Over the course of eight months or so, we’d come close to discussing nearly every frame that our students would end up including in their final cuts.  On innumerable occasions we would pull out our hair trying to explain to our students why some of their scenes were pointless, or why some of their cuts were disorienting, or why some of their B-roll was totally inappropriate.  They tended to ignore us and take our sage advice in equal measure, arbitrarily.

The experience has contributed enormously to the critical apparatus I tend, semi-consciously, to bring to bear on the hours and hours and hours of television I consume on a weekly basis.  I mention all this to explain why I even noticed the succession of images I’ve included below.  They come from the credit sequence of Denis Leary’s 9/11sploitation vanity vehicle, Rescue me, and they have baffled me since I let my curiosity get the better of me and started watching the show.  (They flash onscreen at around 0:39 in the youtube link above.)

... the fuck...
... the fuck...
... is this guy?!
... is this guy?!

It’s a shame that the genius editor who put this credit sequence together was never my student, because I would not have hesitated to humiliate him or her in front of the rest of the class for this nonsense.  Where to begin?  With the Von Bondies, obviously.  I’ve regurgitated elsewhere the Wikipedia wisdom that Denis Leary’s son was responsible for this particularly egregious editorial decision.  “Hey, son, I’ve co-created a show in which I lionize the working class ethos of the FDNY.  There will be lots of slow-motion montages of me running into fires, as well as plenty of opportunities for me to take off my shirt and show off the fact that FX paid for me to get a personal trainer.  We’ll even have a talented make-up artist who will be able to disguise, for the most part, the pucker lines I’ve accumulated around my lips from smoking for so many years.  Can you think of a song that would adequately prepare viewers for such an awesome weekly experience?”  Sure, Dad.  It goes like this:

“On another day, c’mon, c’mon / With these ropes tied tight can we do no wrong? / Now we grieve ’cause now it’s gone / Things were good when we were young / Was it safe to say? C’mon, c’mon / Was it right to leave? C’mon, c’mon / Will I ever learn?  C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”

See, the “ropes tied tight” are like a metaphor for objective social-economic relations.  Your character is, like, stuck in his working classness.  And the grief, well, 9/11, obviously.  And the repetition of “c’mon” is like society, y’know, telling you to stay in line.  It’s perfect.

I’m particularly insulted that the VBs’ (more like VDs’) Jason Stollsteimer felt authorized, however vicariously, to make the claim that “things were good when we were young.”  Really, dude?  With the hindsight of your late twenties you’re prepared to make such an assertion?  If I ever get the chance, I will punch him myself, first for writing such an obnoxious, whiny song, and second for being such a twat in general.

It’s important to bear the content of this song in mind, because it inflects how we’re going to read the images of that anonymous dude who appears near the end of the credit sequence.  It also bears mentioning that, aside from Leary’s (looking appropriately stoic, maybe even reflective), his is the only face we ever see in the credits — other human figures are either faceless passers-by (a staple of any imaginary of New York) or firefighters at work, with their broad, working men’s backs to us.

So, who the hell is this guy?  And why is he grieving, aside from the very Husserlian recognition that “now it’s gone?”  Is his house on fire?  Or maybe he just has a bad headache?  Is he an alcoholic, too?  Does he have a hangover?  Why is he just sitting there by himself outside of such a pretty brownstone?  Does he live there?  Is he casing the joint?  Is he a pyromaniac?  Is he going to set a fire?  Is he struggling with his internal demons?  Is he suffering from “agita?”

These questions have nagged at me through every single episode of all five seasons of Rescue me. Too bad that’s not even remotely the only reason why the show is so mediocre.  FAIL.

— J.C. Freñán


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