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Sirens: TV Review

The Bottom Line

Three Chicago EMTs joke their way through the grim realities of their job, then experience diverse lives away from it in this crude-but-funny series from Denis Leary and Bob Fisher.

Air date

Thursdays at 10 p.m. on USA, premiering tonight

Created by

Denis Leary and Bob Fisher

Starring

Michael Mosley, Kevin Daniels, Kevin Bigley, Jessica McNamee, Jean Smart, Lenny Clarke

Denis Leary comes back to cable with something a little lighter than "Rescue Me," but "Sirens" shouldn't be shunted to the side with unfair comparisons, as the USA comedy has enough crude laughs and a big enough heart to find a place with fans

Here's the thing about memories (and a little bit about legacy): sometimes when you look back, it's a lie. OK, fine, if not a lie, then often a misrepresentation of what actually happened.

Take Rescue Me for example. It was one of the most tonally-ambitious shows you'll ever find -- crude humor, dark drama, sometimes a mixture of both. Denis Leary and Peter Tolan crafted something that could never sustain itself (and didn't) but was holy when it tried and pretty damned close when it failed. It was a show hell-bent on imploding, but also something that deserved praise for its single-minded interpretation of Leary's worldview.

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Now comes the USA comedy Sirens (tonight at 10 p.m.) and the inevitable comparison to Rescue Me with the equally inevitable disclaimer that this is a watered-down version. Sure, if you want to look at it that way, you can. Sirens is no Rescue Me. But I'd also say it never even remotely attempts to be. What Sirens is, more than anything, is a sitcom that has situation similarities – emergency medical technicians at an ambulance company rather than firefighters – to the acclaimed FX series, but one that is going for something completely different and vastly less complicated. Laughs. Really, all that Sirens wants to do is make you laugh (though, in the first few episodes it's also clear that in the secondary position is a desire to make you feel a little something as well. That's not a bad thing -- not something you jack-stomp it over.

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No, Leary and Bob Fisher are clearly out for laughs first as they document the lives of three Chicago EMTs and the various people in their lives. The first episode makes it clear that Leary's fascination with what some might call crude humor – has any one man been behind this many cock jokes in the history of television? – remains unabated. There should be no surprise that Leary likes tough Irish Catholic clans and surrounds them with various ethnicities and non-Irish Catholic clan types to offset his humor. It's actually a recipe that works quite well if you get the man and what he’s up to.

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Leary (and Fisher) like guys who talk about sex and all that comes with it -- balls, cocks, porn, masturbation, women's asses in yoga pants, etc. etc. If that's not your thing, then Sirens is not your thing. If your sensibilities can encompass that – and what has always been a healthy fascination with loving and hating your own parents and what it means to be raised in a time when those parents pretty much messed you up – then you get Leary's humor enough to follow along when he creates characters.

And he's created three broad types in Sirens that might not be as nuanced as some other comedies but actually take as much liberties with the rules that are in place for a 10 p.m. cable comedy as you might expect – and I thought he pulled off their senses of personality surprisingly well (especially in light of some of the awful network sitcoms we’ve all had to endure of late).

Johnny (Michael Mosley), his best friend and blunt truth-speaker Hank (Kevin Daniels), who is also gay and African-American if you're checking off boxes, and new recruit Brian (Kevin Bigley) are the trio at the core of Sirens. They go out on calls and riff – that's the basics of the series and more than enough to probably draw an audience.

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Johnny has a mother (the superb Jean Smart) an a father (the great Lenny Clarke) who are divorced and combative. He also has a girlfriend, Theresa (Jessica McNamee), though both are "taking a break" from each other, but remain close, leading to the inevitable wondering of why they're not together (Brian has relationship issues thanks to his father walking out on the family). Like Rescue Me before it, Sirens spends a lot of time on calls and finding the humor in those people they rescue or otherwise encounter. But even early on, Theresa and her friends (who will hopefully be explored further in future episodes), give the audience enough of what to expect and a reason to look forward to more.

Sirens will undoubtedly suffer from comparison to Rescue Me, but how any show can accurately compared to what Rescue Me was attempting seems dubious at best. And since Sirens has a fondness for base humor and the grunting interests of the blue collar masses, it might be dismissed as a comedy without a real brain. But I'm not sure that’s accurate. There's more going on in Sirens than the vast bulk of what other cable comedies are offering and more than 50 percent of network sitcoms (where, let’s not kid ourselves, the quality is actually higher than on cable).

USA and TBS and others have struggled to come up with comedies that make the kind of impact their network or pay cable counterparts do, but Sirens is a better than expected offering and probably better than the kickback it’s likely to get when it comes to faulty memories and dusty legacies.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine