“Only three? Dammit!”
3:30 a.m. becomes quite an adventure in fighting off sleep. No one wants to succumb to the devious wiles of the subconscious so early in the morning. Not those who drink heavily, nor those like myself trying to cram as much TV-and-movie-watching in before those reviled eyelids say otherwise. In a recent case, it wasn’t so much as trying to stay awake as fighting off a heavy funk brought on by a TV show, “The Job”, Denis Leary’s 84-ring circus about the life of cops. By that early hour, I had only three episodes left before it was all over. Cruelty is not only brought down upon us by politicians, bosses, or family members. It’s also by dumb-minded television executives who can’t think beyond their one-dimensional world of sitcoms that have been done to death. Three episodes and Mike McNeil (Leary) and everyone else at that New York precinct would no longer exist. Sure they could still be seen on DVD whenever I wanted, but they would never have that one episode after the final episode. Nor another. Nor another.
“The Job” is exactly that good. In fact, it is and it will become one of the greatest comedy-drama combos to ever be seen on American television. It’s not a typical sitcom at all. It’s how our lives are completely messed up and the bigger holes we dig ourselves into while trying to get out of them. And all these cops have those problems. Try this out for a network show: McNeil drinks, pops pills, and has a girlfriend on the side while married to his wife. He also has two kids. Terrence “Pip” Phillips (Bill Nunn, who has found his most perfect cop role) has an overbearing wife who leaves Pip floundering as to what she wants. The trouble starts early on in the season when she finds another woman’s phone number in the pocket of his jeans and he sheepishly admits that he met an old semi-flame from his teenage days. She won’t let him off the topic! While she chews him out and asks him why he couldn’t have told her that he was married, he says that they had only talked for about a minute, hardly enough time to get into life stories that would change everything around. And in some way, Pip needs that happier time into the past. His wife looks like she’ll break out of her humanoid shell and turn into either a succubus or an alien life form bent on destroying all men.
Leary associate Lenny Clarke is on deck as Frank Harrigan, the precinct’s fat cop who’s not there for what other shows would deem “comic relief”. He’s not that guy to laugh at when the drama becomes too thick and heavy. He’s selfish and he eats too much, traits which he readily admits. Whether he’s willing to change that is approached in a few episodes, more prominently in the last one. Adam Ferrara as Tommy Manetti is Frank’s partner and this isn’t any Abbott & Costello or Laurel & Hardy and relationship. One does not get annoyed at the other briefly and then remain friends. In the first episode, Tommy is angry that Frank stole his muffin off his desk and ate it, and proceeds to pull out his gun, c**k it, and state that he will shoot whoever comes near his food. Other great roles are pulled out for Diane Farr as the single mother cop, Julian Acosta and John Ortiz as the new guys on the force who haven’t been broken into New York cops, and Keith David as their boss, who has a voice that could change traffic lights. He’s ticked, demanding, and isn’t fond of McNeil on his force, but he tolerates him as much as possible because, he’s good. That’s the conundrum of a lieutenant running his unit. As much as you might despise those who give you the heartburn and anger you don’t deserve, they do get their job done. That’s life.
Watching these actors play their roles like real people, not only stems from the stunning writing that gets them away from the sitcom caricatures that have cursed that kind of entertainment for years. Every single situation they go through is not a build-up for a joke. In the episode “Bathroom”, where McNeil is held hostage by a Spanish perpetrator who speaks no English, he fields a cell phone call from his girlfriend who had a bad day and wants him with her for the night, as well as his wife who reminds him of their appointment at the marriage counselor. There’s a laugh there because of that kind of connection, but let’s face it, this guy has huge problems. He wants to believe that it will all sort itself out and as a cop, he thinks he has the right to feel that way but as Pip observes, it will all backfire on him terribly. The set up, buildup, and punchline method isn’t observed here. The moments happen when they happen. It’s also due to the immediate handheld camera style, and the observation by Denis Leary in one of the five audio commentaries that they didn’t film this like a typical sitcom. Being on location in New York, they filmed it like you would on a movie schedule. A good chunk of episodes in a matter of months. With a schedule like that, it’s no wonder Leary kept himself associated with the script writing. However, while another comedian is likely to insinuate their routines in their television material, Leary does nothing of the sort. We hear a few references to him betting his left nut on something and a piece of the popular rant on flavored coffee, but beyond that, he has a dedication to not only his character, but the other characters that populate his world. He cares enough to make sure that everyone else is given ample time to bloom. In a scene in the midst of the season where rookies Ruben Sommariba (John Ortiz) and Al Rodriguez (Julian Acosta) believe the “magic” of an “Indian” who looks like he made it rain, it’s something to laugh at surely and also something to understand. Because when being a part of a new group like this, it’s hard enough to navigate a foggy field to try to find your own stake in your job, but also being watched by those veterans who know the playing field and require that the rookies know it too. A cop job is not something taken irreverently and all these people realize it. And, McNeil uses both guys to his advantage, doing his deeds as in “Bathroom” where he sends Ruben and Al to a more rundown side of town to pick up Iggy and Butch. Both of them think otherwise about who Iggy and Butch might be, but get quite a surprise when they finally arrive to pick them up.
“The Job” is that one show which belongs to all of us. We have problems, and these men and woman have problems. And just like Leary and his band of actors note, we handle them in some way that makes it all work out in our unscripted lives. Life is not about setting up a joke for its eventual punchline nine seconds later. It constantly moves and we have to grab on somewhere. Even if we don’t want to, it happens to us more than we happen to it.
The extra features on this four-disc set go for the best in making this show come through behind-the-scenes. In the five audio commentaries Leary and Peter Tolan have together, they sometimes leave some dead air in the middle of their tracks. While a commentary should have the most information possible in the making of a show and all the stories that come with it, they deserved to leave dead air. For what they’ve produced through 19 episodes, they deserved to have the dead air wherever it was. There’s lots of stories heard that give a proper view of the show’s production, including a rarity of beverage choice in the “Barbeque” episode. In how far this show went for realism, real alcohol was poured around during the filming of the scene where they are standing around in Pip’s backyard, resorting to needed measures when they find that Pip’s wife doesn’t like alcohol at all in the house.
A nearly half an hour interview with Denis Leary and Peter Tolan rightfully derides the stupidity of ABC in canceling their show, although the two, looking back, appreciate what ABC did because it gave them the opportunity to make “Rescue Me”, which according to Leary, has full support from FX as opposed to the half-hearted support “The Job” got from ABC. You see, “The Job” didn’t fit into ABC’s marketing practices. It had to be easily marketable. A 30-second spot should reveal all that the show offers. Marketing mongrels were confused. Now, as almost impossible as it seems, something good came out of the “Thomas Crown Affair” remake, especially on Leary’s part. Director John McTiernan ordered Leary to research his part as a cop and met Mike Charles, the technical advisor for his part. Through spending time with Charles, Leary decided that he wanted to create a show out of this guy’s life and through that, that’s how “The Job” now lives on DVD. These two go through so much that a time limit should not have been imposed. After the interview fades out, we’ve nearly reached half an hour. Of course data storage is a concern on any DVD, of how much can be slapped on to a disc before it’s full, but when these men wanted to stop talking, that’s where this should have stopped. Leary’s got a personality that can last for hours. There’s also a gag reel, which is atypical of other gag reels in that it’s not only about the main actors, but supporting roles and even guest actors too. The promo spots for the series premiere from ABC show that the marketing team had washed their hands of ideas to promote the show and put Leary front and center, awash in black-and-white, explaining to viewers what they could expect and what was going to be unexpected from “The Job”. This is perfect honesty and the best move ABC made for the show. More should have been done though.
Even more rare is a couple of minutes of behind-the-scenes footage which doesn’t have any interviews with actors while the footage is seen. This is as it was and that’s all there is to it. On-the-set cast interviews show a contrast between Hollywood’s methods of interviews and those of the people working on the show when they are away from those executives who look at the show and wonder if it could be done another way. Leary and Tolan had balls in that they told ABC that this is the way they were going to make the show. They were not going to get rid of the girlfriend just because the network didn’t like it. In fact, in these interviews, Leary recalls a night when they were filming and a real-life cop passed by Leary and said, “On my way to my girlfriend’s from my wife’s.” He hit the sacred mark. One cop wasn’t pleased with what Leary had done and while no trouble stemmed from that beyond a terse “Thanks!”, Leary says that the truth hurts, but it’s also funny. Listening to him tell these stories as well as the rest of the cast with their feelings on the show, it’s clear they are within the grips of Hollywood. They’re much more reserved, carefully choosing words that will please whoever’s watching them on the sidelines with their gun cocked, and being as cordial as possible. Peter Tolan has his own separate interview on location in which he gives it straight out and honest. This is what the show is. This is how it will stay. Possibly because he’s busy, that’s why he speaks as he does. But it’s real words as opposed to the polished ones spoken by the actors previously.
The set ends with a message from Denis Leary that shows he’s not only concerned with how his shows are on TV, but also how the people are being treated that he is portraying. He speaks on behalf of the Leary Firefighters Foundation, which seeks to provide firefighters with the best equipment and training possible. So far, he keeps himself stationed in New York with this Foundation, but hopefully it will extend outward to other cities and perhaps even across the nation. Nevertheless, it shows Leary as a comedian who can be serious when he needs to, eschewing his acidic humor. And it’s “The Job”, which will keep him well known besides all else that he’s done in the years that have passed.