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byBEN KROMER & r & & r & Rescue Me


(Wednesdays, 10 pm, FX) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & escue Me is a lot of things: a melodrama about working stiffs, a guy's-night-out-style comedy, a soft-core firefighter porn. The sexual content isn't any more explicit than on other shows on FX, it's just that pornography is the only other place to find so many attractive, one-dimensional women ready to throw down with a guy anytime, anywhere. Whether it's fantasy fulfillment or it's just that easy to get laid when you're a firefighter in New York, the sex feeds the drama and the comedy.





The majority of the drama falls on Tommy Gavin (Dennis Leary, who also writes for the show and produces). Tommy's got a broken family -- a cop and a priest for brothers -- and an extremely strained relationship with the Lord. It almost goes without saying he's a violent Irish drunk. Here and now, especially on cable, it's not uncommon for shows to have unsavory heroes, but few are as loathsome as Tommy -- a sexual deviant and all-around prick. The fact that he knows this about himself and that the alcoholism is fueled by intense self-loathing almost counts as a redeeming quality. The fact that he might be losing his mind since his brother died on 9/11 counts in his favor as well.





The rest of the firefighters are less complicated, but everyone has problems. The chief has a wife with Alzheimer's and gay son who makes him uncomfortable. The station's chubby nice guy is the only one who can't get a girl despite being smarter than his colleagues. Sex machine Franco is dealing with the knowledge that one of his old sexual conquests carried his child to term. The two youngest firefighters get called "retard" frequently, not without reason. Political incorrectness, like the anti-hero, is common enough on TV now that it barely warrants comment, but the firefighters' blatant homophobia, misogyny and other signs of unrefined character come on strong enough to surprise.





None if this makes the show sound terribly funny, especially when you add fire deaths and burn victims, but I'll hold that Rescue Me is primarily comedy -- a black one -- especially when characters receive comeuppance for their bad behavior. I can't think of a single piece of art that varies so quickly or so wildly between comedic situations and intense unpleasantness. Joseph Heller's Catch-22 comes closest. That's good company.





National Bingo Night


The high concept here is that it's bingo and the viewing audience can play along and win. I don't know how bingo cards are obtained or how well the audience-participation bit works, but I figure the public will want to know about this. ABC, Fridays, 9 pm.





Cities of the Underworld


The sometimes enormous man-made structures lying forgotten underground and brought to light here bring to mind Poe, Lovecraft and gothic horror in general. Some are evocative enough that a viewer can conjure up a scary story to fit the setting on their own. If not, the History Channel helpfully provides the actual histories of these places, which can be equally freaky. History Channel, Friday at 10 pm, Saturday at 2 am.





The Universe


If you don't think an hour-long program about Jupiter sounds interesting, then perhaps you don't understand the gravity of the situation. Seriously, folks, you'd weigh about a billion pounds there. Expect similar fascinating facts but fewer funnies from the History Channel. The possibility of life on any of Jupiter's numerous moons is also explored and presumably not debunked. History, Sunday at 11 pm

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