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The Women of Rescue Me
They Did Not Work and Play Well With Others
Rescue Me was a long-running series about a New York City Firehouse and their crew in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on New York City. The series was created, written and produced by Dennis Leary and Peter Tolan. It ran for 93 episodes on FX Network, ending on September 7, 2011.
The show was simultaneously comedic and dramatic, centered on firefighter Tommy Gavin (played by Dennis Leary). It was hard-hitting and politically incorrect. The cast, crew, and show was nominated for and won a plethora of awards. Along with the praise came a fair bit of criticism.
To be clear, Rescue Me was a man’s show, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Still, it should be pointed out that the women of Rescue Me gave consistent substantial performances. Here is a look at the some of the actresses and what they brought to the show:
Andrea Roth played Janet Gavin the anguished spouse of Tommy Gavin (Dennis Leary). Roth is of Dutch and Scottish descent. Frankly, I did not know that the Scots or Dutch made such pretty people.
Anyhow, Roth, a native of Canada, has been acting for more than 30 years, having started as a kid. Her resume includes plenty of pretty girl roles (rightly so) but few acting gigs stretch her acting chops like the role of Janet Gavin.
Playing Janet Gavin enabled her to playing the long-suffering wife in a co-dependent relationship with an alcoholic, philandering husband. Then the role shifted into more of a wife and mother trying to move on, trying a career and relationships outside the marriage. Again, Janet shifted to mother mourning the loss of a child and becoming even darker as the lover of her husband’s brother and so on, and so on, and so on.
Where Roth owned the role was through her physical presence. At nearly 5 foot, 9 inches in height, she is tall enough to easily notice. Her considerable attractiveness: high cheekbones, strong jaw line and large, often blue/green eyes (sometimes brown), long, lithe arms and legs-is difficult not to notice.
Somewhere in her training she learned the value of a composed delivery and avoiding what is known as “indicating.” (Indicating, by acting standards, is the general overplaying of any scene. When it is done, it shows and reeks of amateurishness.)
If there were any flaws in Roth’s (and other Rescue Me cast members) performances, it was because of Dennis Leary. Leary, for those living in a cave, rose to fame as a standup comedian before becoming an actor.
A trademark Leary’s comedy was his patented rant. It was always caustic, long-winded, and staccato in delivery. It was quite popular, leading Leary into a side-career as a commercial pitchman.
The Leary rants are always over the top, which is an indicator of the above-mentioned indicating. In Roth’s case, it held her down at times when playing Janet Gavin.
On the other hand, Callie Thorne, playing Sheila Keefe, took the rants that were frequently woven into the show’s dialogue and always brought the house down. While they were always over the top, Thorne with her skill, kept it always kept it entertaining.
Sheila Keefe was the widow of fireman Jimmy Keefe (played by James McCaffery), who died rescuing people in the 9/11 attack on New York City’s World Trade Center. That, in and of itself, is a storyline of the highest possible drama, a tragedy of Aristotelian proportions.
Thrown in was that Jimmy Keefe and Tommy Gavin were cousins and best friends, as well as working side by side as firefighters, then Sheila and Tommy’s past, which included a brief fling.
As if that weren’t impossibly complicating enough, Sheila received millions of dollars in an insurance settlement from her husband’s death, and her son suffered critical injuries suffered as a rookie firefighter, leaving him in a vegetative state.
In between in it all, Sheila and Tommy had one of the most passionate and dysfunctional relationships in all of television. They were friends, lovers and mortal enemies often simultaneously.
Callie Thorne owned the scenes. Ryan Brockington of the New York Post summed it best by calling Thorne as “strikingly hot and equally wacky.”
Whereas Andrea Roth is statuesque and blonde with a porcelain complexion, Callie Thorne is petite and highly energetic with a dark complexion thanks to her Armenian and Italian heritage.
Thorne is gorgeous enough to play the trophy wife or girlfriend and bring a zaniness that looks almost like Lucille Ball on methamphetamines.
Thorne, by her own words, evolved Sheila from a bipolar “taker to a giver” throughout the show’s run.
Marissa Tomei played Angie Gavin, the ex-wife of Tommy Gavin’s brother Johnny, who had a fling with Tommy to get back at her former husband. She won a 2007 Gracie Allen award for her performance.
Patti D’Arbanville played Ellie, the drunken lunatic spouse of Uncle Teddy (played by Lenny Clarke). Their alcohol soaked relationship was right out of The Iceman Cometh.
Natalie Distler played Colleen Gavin, Tommy and Janet’s eldest daughter. Colleen evolved from a very troubled, alcoholic teenaged daughter to a young woman struggling to remain sober.
Gina Gershon played Valerie, one of many highly troubled lovers of Tommy Gavin.
Maura Tierney played Kelly McPhee, a fire victim and potential romantic interest of Tommy Gavin. They shared common ground in that they both lost children. Kelly McPhee had to battle breast cancer, a plot twist that was written into the show only after Tierney herself successfully beat the same illness.
Susan Sarandon played Alicia Green, a wealthy older babe who romanced man pretty fireman slash single daddy, man pretty Franco Rivera (played by Daniel Sunjata). After their horizontal-ness ended, Alicia adopted Franco’s daughter under suspicious circumstances and very much against his wishes.
Diane Farr played Laura Miles, and Jennifer Esposito played Nona. Both were unique characters in that in addition to being romantic interests, they cracked the club that seemed to be almost exclusively involve male firefighters in the show.
Tatum O’Neal played Maggie Gavin, Tommy’s severely troubled, alcoholic sister who was briefly married to firefighter Sean Garrity (played by Steven Pasquale).
None of the show’s female characters would ever be accused of being well-adjusted or normal but they were wildly entertaining, thanks to the highly talented actresses who brought them to life.