Ellen Gray: Feeling a bit Leary about 'Rescue Me,' 'Damages' face off

Andrea Roth's Janet is about to give Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) one more chance.
Andrea Roth's Janet is about to give Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) one more chance.
Posted: July 13, 2011

RESCUE ME. 10 tonight, FX.

DAMAGES. 10 tonight, DirecTV's Audience Network.

SOMETHING happens tonight on TV that couldn't have happened a year ago: "Rescue Me" and "Damages" are going head to head at 10 p.m.

And though Glenn Close can be pretty scary, I'm afraid it's not going to be much of a fight.

In one corner, we have Denis Leary, a long drink of water (or maybe something stronger) whose rowdy firefighter dramedy "Rescue Me" returns for its seventh and final season on FX.

In the other, we have Close, petite but powerful, and with a jaw of steel. Her legal thriller, "Damages," is migrating to DirecTV after three seasons on FX in a deal that will keep it alive for at least two more seasons, but isn't likely to increase its viewership. It doesn't help that FX won't be getting to rerun the episodes later, as NBC's been doing with DirecTV's "Friday Night Lights."

But that's show business.

And as much as I love "Damages" as an acting showcase, I'm not surprised it's never grown enough of an audience to keep it on ad-supported cable. Making a virtue of obfuscation tends to turn off more people than it delights.

But if you're one of the people who've so far managed the suspension of disbelief required to accept that Close's Patty Hewes could yet again find a way to pull protege Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) back into her orbit, Season 4 shouldn't disappoint.

Focused on a case involving a well-connected private contractor in Afghanistan - yes, you're supposed to think Blackwater - it has a meaty part for John Goodman that more than makes up for his not being on HBO's "Treme" anymore.

Patty's private life has also taken an interesting turn as she confronts the one trial for which she never really prepared.

And if I told you more, she'd probably have to kill you.

Over at FX, Tommy Gavin is working his way toward the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks - the series finale is scheduled for Sept. 7 - and Leary, too, seems to be working toward something.

I'm not sure what that is, exactly - I've so far made it through seven of the nine episodes FX sent - but I did peek and the finale is titled "Ashes."

That can't be good. Can it?

I've washed my hands of "Rescue Me" more times than Tommy's kicked the bottle, driven away by the show's treatment of most of its women characters and the eye-rollingly ridiculous way those women keep falling at Gavin's feet, as if being an angry, abusive alcoholic were some sort of sexual superpower.

When I come back it's not because "Rescue Me" can be insanely funny - though it can be, particularly when it sticks close to the firehouse - but because I still believe that buried under layers and layers of Leary's nonsense, there's an actual story that's dying to get out.

I'm still holding out hope for that story, but much of what I've seen of this season feels like a mix of throat-clearing and perhaps (a little) atonement for past excesses.

Not only is Tommy suddenly finding himself utterly resistible to women, but the women already in his life have incongruously joined forces in an effort to domesticate him. Janet (Andrea Roth) is about to give him one last shot at fatherhood, but she has conditions. Her new best friend? Former cousin-in-law Sheila (Callie Thorne), who not only used to sleep with Tommy but once tried to kill him.

The fabulous Maura Tierney makes an energetic return as a sardonic breast-cancer patient, and she, too, will have something to teach Tommy.

I'm not sure if this is a Bizarro World version of "Rescue Me," or if Leary's decided that what women really want are his testicles - at the end of a pointy stick.

(Wrong again, boyo.)

Or, maybe he actually has something cool up the sleeve of that battered leather jacket?

In any case, I've come this far: I might as well stick around to see where he's going with this.

'Doctor' is in on Facebook

BBC America's "Doctor Who" won't be back until fall, but starting today, fans of the time-traveling Doctor can delve into his past - and his many incarnations - through Facebook.

BBC Worldwide has decided to cash in on its archives and will be offering a selection of digitally remastered episodes from both the "classic" and modern-era series for 48-hour rentals internationally through Facebook, using "credits" that can be purchased, naturally, through Facebook.

And for those of us who still cling to the outmoded currency of dollars and cents?

Streaming each multi-episode storyline will cost 15 credits, which is $1.50, in the U.S., according to a BBC Worldwide spokeswoman. *

Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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