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New York City Got ‘Rescue Me,’ but D.C. Is Still Waiting

Popular Culture Overlooks the Effects Of 9/11 in Washington

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
Actor Denis Leary (center) takes a break with other cast members during filming for an episode of the television show “Rescue Me,” which focuses on firefighters in New York City’s post-9/11 atmosphere.

"Rescue Me," the pitch-black television comedy/drama about New York City firefighters making their way after the trauma of 9/11, ended its run Wednesday night fittingly, it seems just as the country begins its observance of the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

The one-hour series on Fox's FX Network began in 2004, and it stands out as the longest-running and most critically acclaimed among the pop culture artifacts of the post-9/11 era.

The significance of "Rescue Me" and its vivid portrayal of post-9/11 New York, begs the question, though, as to whether Washington's role in the events of 9/11 will ever get such treatment.

Other television series, such as Fox's "24," reflected the tone of the times, with its portrayal of counterterrorism agents scrambling to cut off the bad guys, one day at a time.

But, unlike "24," "Rescue Me" was conceived and executed entirely after 9/11. The show's detailed immersion in the lives of New York firefighters in the aftermath of the attacks led to multiple Emmy nominations and plaudits from everyone from firefighters to politicians.

Regarding the 10-year anniversary, New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley put it this way: "Not paying attention is unthinkable, but it's even harder to think of an adequate tribute. 'Rescue Me' ... isn't a bad place to start."

Beyond the talents of its star/producer/writer, Denis Leary, and the rest of a brilliant ensemble cast, the show succeeded because of its unflinching look at what happened to New York and its people through the lens of the first responders who, as we've heard so often, raced into the World Trade Center when everyone else was racing out.

Underneath the show's humor and surrealism, the scars of the attacks were ever-present, and it didn't take much to expose them. At the end of its run, "Rescue Me" states unequivocally, in the words of Leary's Tommy Gavin, "There's no getting over it."

Its status in American culture was sanctified this summer when Leary donated much of the show's equipment and related ephemera to the Smithsonian Institution.

So what about Washington? Although the nation's capital did not sustain the human and infrastructure casualties that New York did, the scars of 9/11 run deep here, too.

The Pentagon, a symbol of American military might, sustained major damage and casualties. And United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa., was by all accounts headed for either the White House or the Capitol before passengers overwhelmed their attackers and sent the plane down.

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