Rescue Me and its co-creator and star Denis Leary have never shied from taking on tough topics and speaking bluntly about them. When “Rescue Me” roars back Tuesday for its fifth season, it will be no different when it tackles the question of whether the government was somehow behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The show is looking to bounce back from what Leary only half-jokingly called a “sucky season” that fell flat for many viewers.
“I think we did it on purpose,” Leary said at the recent TV Critics Association press tour, “so that we could have a sucky season and then this season would look so much better in comparison.”
The new season finds the New York firefighters facing the fact that 10th anniversary commemorations and a coffee table book are in the works, forcing them to recall memories that they’ve worked for years to put behind them. Amid the chaos, Franco (played by Daniel Sunjata) begins to explore the question of whether 9/11 was part of a government conspiracy.
The debate gets heated, so to speak, in the firehouse and leads to dramatic confrontational scenes that Leary specifically pointed out when discussing the new season.
“It creates a great rift in the firehouse, which is a circumstance that has happened in several firehouses in New York, where some of the younger members don’t even have to completely buy into the theory of 9/11 being an inside job, but want to discuss it,” Leary said. “As a creator on the show and as a fellow actor, and even having been in some scenes, when all of us were going at each other and attacking Franco and some of the younger guys who were buying into what he thought about 9/11, on set I was like, man, this is really — the energy in the room is insane. This looks like it’s just – somebody’s going to kill somebody, which is what we were looking for, is that kind of spark to it.”
What’s more interesting is that the disagreements continue off-camera. Sunjata counts himself among those who believe 9/11 was an inside job.
“We’ve actually only talked about it a couple of times, and I know that Denis doesn’t agree with me, but I applaud the fact he was at least, he and Peter, were willing to introduce it as a plot line into the show,” Sunjata told me. “I don’t think that they try to tie it up neatly for the audience. It’s introduced through my character, and I’m thankful for that, but then all the other guys in the firehouse have different reactions to it. Some of them think I’m crazy, some of them are on the fence. And I think that’s kind of the reaction that you find, in general, when people are exposed to, or even contemplate, the possibility that our government could have had something to do with something as atrocious as 9/11.”
So what does Leary think of his co-star’s claim?
“I think it’s insane,” he told me. “Several of my closest friends in the New York Fire Department are guys that were there supporting building No. 7 for hours before the building came down. But a number of those guys in that crew that were there, they lost their rig. Their rig got crushed. They all made it out, but they were there. You know, the problem with conspiracy theories is that once you put that ice cube on your head — whether it’s the JFK assassination or 9/11, whatever it might be — all the other information that’s given to you goes through that prism. So, whatever the truth is (to you) is only as you see it.
“I’ve had firemen speak to Danny on set saying, ‘I was there. It was two planes that were flown into two buildings,’” Leary said. “But because he already believes in the conspiracy, there’s no convincing him. Everything you say that proves it the other way, they see as part of the conspiracy.”