BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — It's appropriate that FX's "Rescue Me," borne out of the heroism of New York City firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001, should come to a close near the 10-year anniversary of the terror attacks that rocked America.
A mixture of comedy and drama, "Rescue Me" (11 p.m. MDT Wednesday, Sept. 7) hinted at what's to come in the finale — death, most notably — at the end of last week's episode that was played more as a comedy until a fire call in the closing minutes found Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) and his team climbing higher and higher into a burning warehouse.
But even in this coming week's episode that carries the burden of saying farewell to a key character and to the show itself, there are moments of comedy that come out of the episode's dirgelike title, "Ashes."
"That is the unique balance of 'Rescue Me,' which we figured out early on," said executive producer Peter Tolan at an FX press conference earlier this summer. "As far as you can go to toward the comedic side, you have to go toward the dramatic side and it all has to balance out. When the show is successful, we've successfully maintained the balance. Sometimes it goes too far on the dark side; sometimes too far on the comic side. But I think the good episodes are the ones that balance that perfectly."
Tolan said part of the show's goal has been to keep memories of 9/11 alive so Americans don't forget the sacrifices made that day.
"There's an American response to things like that where they say, 'Well, that happened, and we survived it, and it's done. It's over,' " Tolan said. "And it's like it's the extrapolation of George Bush saying, 'Mission accomplished,' when, in fact, there's so much more work; there's so many more tentacles of pain that are still being dealt with because of that event. And so just in terms of keeping it alive, in some small way, I felt like that was a positive ancillary effect of 'Rescue Me.'
"Whether or not it meant anything to people, who knows," he continued. "It's meant to be popular entertainment."
With 9/11 remembrances in the media almost unavoidable this week, Leary reflected on the 1999 death of his firefighter cousin in the line of duty and a 10-year anniversary of that tragedy that was held in 2009.
"You are reluctant to go there because you think it's going to be overwhelmingly sad," he said. "And it is sad, and it does dredge up all of those memories."
Leary recalled seeing children around the statue to his cousin and other fallen firefighters and realized the kids younger than 10 would not have been alive when his cousin died.
"They were looking at this statue, and you were going, 'Oh, I understand. OK, now I get it. Now I understand why we are going to have this remembrance event,' " he said. "With 9/11, there's a lot of the same thing, which is just remembering that out of all of the people that died that day, there were 343 guys that went down there and gave their lives in an extremely heroic circumstance. Ultimately, it is something that, hopefully for perpetuity, like Pearl Harbor, if you go there, you'll be very aware of what happened and what went on that day."
As for how the show ends, Leary makes the final episode sound like a downer, but it's not nearly as dark as one might expect. But it does conform to his worldview. (The episode is rated TV-MA.)
"Let's be honest," he said. "I mean, for all of us, we are all going to end up at the same place. There's no happy ending for any of us. ... I think Tommy Gavin's view, it's very true."
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