Denis Leary’s firefighter dramedy Rescue Me returns for its third season tonight on FX, and while I recommend that you catch it for all the reasons I’ve written about before–Leary’s acid-dripping, self-destructive performance, the show’s treatment of machismo and self-deception and Irish Catholic guilt–another reason is that it has a kickass credits sequence.
Credits sequences are a dying art on network TV. You get a few bars of a tune, a few seconds of images, and then we’re off to commercials–just one more example of the modern corporate imperative never to waste a unused second that can be wrung out for a couple more shekels. When you pop in a DVD of a show from the 70s, you’ll be astonished by the lavish credits, stretching on for minutes and multiple song verses. Millions in potential advertising dollars, rotting there on screen like a whale carcass before your eyes!
Nowadays, the only shows that understand the importance of opening titles, to draw you in, establish themes and set the emotional table, are on cable. (The few network shows with good title sequences include Lost and 24, which make a virtue of parsimony with spare, almost non-existent titles and run their credits over the action.) Almost every HBO credits sequence is a gorgeous mini-movie in itself–the Henricksens in Big Love saying grace on their own planet to the strains of God Only Knows, the most perfect pop song written; the museum-quality images of gold dust and blood in the titles of Deadwood. The one clunker, to my taste, is Entourage, whose L.A. joyride with the four main characters in a convertible is a bit too literal–though the music choice, Jane’s Addiction’s Superhero, is a perfect choice for the story of a golden-boy celeb starring in the movie Aquaman.
Rescue Me’s credits, anyway, are the best on TV, a flawless marriage of music, picture and idea. Image after perfectly chosen image hits on the themes of manliness, aggression, bathos and desolation: a punching bag swinging in an empty room, ketchup bottles and dirty dishes on a dinner table, the smoke from a finished cigarette wafting wraith-like from an ashtray, the World Trade Center-less Manhattan skyline. All of this is punctuated by firemen suiting up, red lights flashing, streetscapes whirring by–the brave, foolhardy drive that redeems the wrecked, obnoxious firefighters that populate the comedy-drama. The scene of a flock of pigeons exploding into the air as the rhythm section and lyrics kick in deserves an Emmy in itself.
Meanwhile, the music–the punk anthem C’mon, C’mon by Detroit’s Von Bondies–so plaintively, fiercely captures the show’s post-9/11 resignation and regret that it’s hard to believe the song wasn’t written for the series: "Now we grieve cause now is gone/ Things were good when we were young/ With my teeth locked down I can see the blood/ Of a thousand men who have come and gone." The verse sounds as coarse, wistful and Bushmill’s-soaked as Leary’s performance looks.
I never watch Rescue Me except on DVD and TiVo. I could skip the credits every time if I wanted to. I never do. Sometimes I rewind and watch them twice. FX may be leaving money on the table for the 50 seconds of credits, but what it does to immerse an audience in the show’s black-humored, teeth-gritting world–that’s priceless.