“Clean” is pretty much a bottle show. A bottle show, a grand tradition in the history of television, is an episode that takes place as much as possible on the standing sets for the show. These episodes are produced in an effort to save money thanks to previous episodes going over-budget (something I can believe in this season, which has featured a lot of expensive-looking fire sequences), and they often feel closer to plays than anything else, thanks to their limited set of locations. They usually call in fewer guest stars than bigger episodes too, giving more to the regular cast members to do. Bottle shows are hard to do well, and they often end up feeling claustrophobic. “Clean” mostly avoids this by cranking up the farcical aspects of the show and telling a story that’s mostly disconnected from the other events of this season. It’s a standalone bit of goofiness, for the most part, and it’s a fun episode.
Most of the episode’s middle section takes place at the firehouse, running through a loose series of mostly amusing scenes that explore the connections between the characters. Needles and Tommy are still at odds. The guys are still tormenting Damien. Janet shows up, and her arrival turns into a sexual encounter with Tommy. And so on. None of these story twists is exactly surprising or unexpected, but the looseness involved keeps things from feeling too strained, where previous comic episodes of the show have seemed to force things to include the funnier material. This is another episode that’s just burning off time before the season finale, but the jokes are stronger, and the character interaction is solid.
Let’s start with the storyline that takes up the most time in the episode. Needles has procured a Russian mail-order bride, of all things, to assuage his heart after his big, complicated divorce. I don’t think any of this has ever come up on the show before (well, I know the mail-order bride, who immigrated just a couple of weeks ago, is new), and the attempts to drag Needles into the storyline feel just a bit strained, but the rest of the stuff, with the guys stalking her around the firehouse, trying to catch a glimpse of her panties-less nether regions, is full of some funny, funny stuff, including some great slapstick, which is something the show rarely does all that well. Franco slamming his head against the barbell while trying to feign doing sit-ups, and Tommy rolling in and out from beneath the fire truck as everyone walked past were both terrifically executed bits of physical comedy (though I also loved Tommy’s, “Hiiiiiii!”), and they made what could have been a stupid story into something winning.
The tension between Needles and Tommy continued to exacerbate, as Tommy’s explosion at the politician from last week’s episode has been picked up by the local news outlets, once again embarrassing Needles (and it’s kind of a wonder that the guy hasn’t just killed Tommy at this point, honestly). The two come to blows over the course of this meeting, and the storyline seems like it’s going to go down another tired path, but from there, it redeems itself, as Needles follows Tommy around throughout the day, making him clean more and more stuff around the firehouse as a way to pay penance for his misdeeds (Needles also wants him to stop drinking). The gleefully malicious Needles is always more fun than the asshole Needles, and seeing the look of sheer joy on his face when he exploded the tiny dye pack in the kitchen and got chips and green paint everywhere almost made the character’s arc worth it for the whole season. (Also good: Needles pointing out Janet’s panties tucked into Tommy’s shirt sleeve.)
The supporting characters, particularly Lou, didn’t get a lot to do in this episode, though the show made a point of checking in on Garrity, who hung out with Damien and Mike and explained that carpe diem referred to carp, not necessarily to “seize the day” (since, Garrity surmised, carpe was the Latin word for carp). It’s the kind of believable idiocy the show does so well with these guys, and having Damien come back to Garrity’s idea about just staying home and not attending the fundraiser for his medical bills with asking him whether or not that was what a fish would do was a good capper to the scene. The show also checked in with Franco and his girlfriend, a plotline that doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon, I guess, and with her continued irritation at Franco and the guys’ suspicions that she and her friends might be lesbians or at least bisexuals. (And considering the name of the next episode is “Lesbos,” I’m guessing we’ll get more of this next week.)
The last act was given over to Tommy’s family staging an intervention for him, thanks to his return to drinking, which has now made the local news. It’s a long, well-written scene, with another of those vintage Tommy monologues about how hard it is to live in the world in its middle, but it ultimately rings just a bit false. Having everybody but Maggie cave and share a drink with Tommy feels just a bit too much like when the show used to let the guy off the hook for everything he did, particularly when the series seemed to be deeply skeptical of Tommy’s claims that he could control his drinking earlier this season. On the other hand, this scene was full of entertaining interactions between the various Gavins, so it wasn’t a total loss. I just hope this is building to something, like it seemed to be earlier in the season, though I suppose criticizing a plot-stalling aspect in a storyline in an episode that’s one long plot stall is ultimately fruitless (and the series has been building this storyline pretty well so far).
All in all, “Clean” isn’t the greatest Rescue Me ever, but it’s funnier than the last couple of episodes, and the degree of difficulty inherent in attempting any bottle show makes me appreciate it just a little bit more as well. It’s a hard thing to do, keeping everything confined to a handful of sets and a handful of characters, and the show does a pretty good job of this throughout. It doesn’t rank alongside the all-time great bottle shows, but it’s a pretty fun episode of Rescue Me in a season that’s been rambling but pretty fun all the same.
- I didn’t say anything about the Sheila and Tommy scene that opened the episode because a.) it never ended and b.) it exemplified pretty much everything I hate about this storyline in general.
- Listen, I know that John Scurti got a lot to do earlier in the season, so the show needs to spread the material to its other players, but I am curious to know what the hell is up with Candy and Lou.
- “I blew a guy once. … Hey I really needed the ride!”