FX may well be the new HBO, or at least HBO-lite. You can say "shit," "cock," "asshole," and in one memorable Rescue Me episode, the delightful amalgam "twunt." You can show most of an ass and the whole boob except the nipple. Actually, it's possible Cinemax is the new HBO, but I don't get Skinemax, despite its propensity for soft porn. I just realized I'm now three-for-three in mentioning breasts in these tv entries. I'm not sure to be proud or ashamed. Let's lean toward proud. Why the hell not?
Anyway, I was hooked on Rescue Me from the pilot episode, where Dennis Leary dresses down a bunch of newly-minted firemen by calling them pussies because they didn't have to deal with 9/11. It was the first post-Sept. 11th show to really deal with the anger of the common man, particularly those much-revered NY City firefighters.
Of course, that anger doesn't come out in completely healthy ways. While these guys might be heroic on the job, they have myriad problems when not battling smoke and saving kittens. Alcoholism, womanizing, ambien overdoses, seeing ghosts of dead cousins: this isn't your typical "Yay firemen!" approach.
The best scenes are the ones at the firehouse where they sit around the table and shoot the shit. It's guy talk at its best, as with the aforementioned coinage of "twunt." But it's not just for guys; both my wife and sister are perhaps even more devoted to the show than I.
Occasionally the show can strain credulity and become surreal, such as when Leary (who is pitch-perfect as troubled super-fireman Tommy Gavin) kept seeing Jesus walking around for half a season, with no apparent symbolism other than the most obvious variety. Characters don't always act in ways that make sense, but some of that is excusable. It's all about dysfunction, and dysfunctional people don't always act in believable ways.
There's also sometimes a sense of the writers going a long way for a humorous situation, but the results are usually more hit than miss. The ep where the dimwitted Garrity unwittingly takes too many of Tommy's sleeping pills and goes on a zombie-esque shopping spree was hilarious, if a bit far-fetched. But I have heard of people on Ambien doing remarkable things, so perhaps it's more credible than it seems.
This show's still running, and I could see its tendency toward excess resulting in an unsatisfyingly melodramatic ending. But it will most assuredly be what Rescue Me almost always is: darkly funny and never boring, which are two things that the major networks can't seem to get right.