Co-creator/executive producer/star Denis Leary and his partner, co-creator/executive producer Peter Tolan, have crafted a 93-episode opus that's a masterpiece of dichotomy. Born out of one of the greatest tragedies in American history the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center "Rescue Me" bounces back and forth between catastrophe and hilarity.
It tackles grief and addiction and tragedy, juxtaposed with gut-busting laughs and sheer stupidity. And yet "Rescue Me" doesn't lurch from one extreme to the other, it deftly transitions in a way that's downright remarkable.
"Rescue Me" (Wednesday, 11 p.m., FX) revolves around Tommy Gavin (Leary), a truly heroic New York City firefighter whom other firefighters look to for inspiration. But he's also a guy with unimaginable personal problems.
When the series began in 2004, Tommy was struggling with the death of his cousin and best friend, Jimmy, a fellow firefighter killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.
That's always been in the background as Tommy struggled with booze and pills. With one woman after another as his family fell apart.
It was in the background when Tommy had an affair with Jimmy's widow. When his young son was killed by a drunken driver. When his uncle shot him. When his brother was killed. When his daughter hit the bottle.
And yet "Rescue Me" has always been laugh-out-loud funny. That continues in the final nine episodes. In one of those hours, the show cuts directly from a scene of unimaginable tragedy to a continuing storyline about the flatulent nature of firefighter Sean Garrity's (Steven Pasquale) gorgeous new girlfriend.
And yet it works. Because Tolan and Leary have perfected the ability to make us cry, make us laugh and put us on the edge of our seats in the same hour.
Heading toward the finale on Sept. 7 four days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 viewers will be tested. And, no, not all the characters will survive.
Tolan admits they were looking to do something "very important" in the finale.
"You want to do right by the characters and the cast and the crew and everybody," he said. "There was some writing in that finale that was just was a little bit more momentous.
"And the [last day of filming] came and we threw it out. And what replaced it was much lighter and much more life goes on. I really had a moment, because I directed the episode, where I was like, 'Boy, this is so not what we wrote. But it's right. Let's get off the soapbox and let's not make a big speech about it.' "
It is a great ending to a great series.
Scott D. Pierce's column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. Contact him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce .