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Nothing to be Leary about if you like his brand of funny

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This is no time to be a smart-ass! From left, Michael Mosley as Johnny Farrell, Kevin Daniels as Hank St. Clare and Kevin Bigley as Brian Czyk on a call in Sirens.

CHUCK HODES/USA NETWORK Enlarge Image

This is no time to be a smart-ass! From left, Michael Mosley as Johnny Farrell, Kevin Daniels as Hank St. Clare and Kevin Bigley as Brian Czyk on a call in Sirens.

There's nothing wrong with setting modest goals, as long as you work hard at achieving them.

Take Denis Leary, for example, whose latest TV project, Sirens, arrives with substantially less lofty ambitions than his previous effort, Rescue Me.

Rescue Me, which ran for seven seasons (2004-2011) with Leary as its star, tried (and mostly succeeded) to be both a sharp, irreverent comedy and a dark, tortured exploration of the post-traumatic stresses endured by New York City firefighters in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

It was one of the most ambitious TV-series undertakings in the medium's recent history, and Leary (and production partner Peter Tolan) deserve full credit for what they achieved.

Sirens, which has its Canadian première Thursday on Comedy, is not seeking, and should not have to endure, any comparisons to Rescue Me. It has no dark agenda, no cathartic intentions, no political statements or personal missions. It's a comedy whose only intention is to get laughs.

And if you enjoy comedy on the crude, rude, ethnic/gender/sexual stereotype-exploitive side, Sirens will likely make you laugh -- very hard, and very often.

Sirens, which was produced for U.S. cable's USA network, is not for everyone; then again, neither is Leary's aggressive and abrasive brand of comedy. Neither he nor this show (in which Leary, as executive producer alongside new partner Bob Fisher, does not appear on screen) is particularly subtle, but that doesn't mean the comedy being produced lacks insight or sophistication.

Sirens stays within Leary's comfort zone by remaining in the realm of emergency-service providers -- this time, rather than NYC firefighters, the focus of the storytelling is on a trio of Chicago EMTs who patrol the streets of the Windy City in a state-of-the-art ambulance.

Crew leader Johnny (Michael Mosley) is just your average Chicago guy -- good-looking, sports-obsessed and genuinely interested in being good at his job. His wingman and best friend, Hank (Kevin Daniels), is an imposing African-American military veteran who also happens to be openly and confidently gay; rounding out the three-man crew is newbie Brian (Kevin Bigley), a wide-eyed innocent with a Cliff Clavin-esque knack for dispensing arcane tidbits of knowledge.

Also in their orbit is Theresa (Jessica McNamee), who is Johnny's girlfriend, but not really, since they've both agreed to take a break from their relationship. They remain closer than just friends, but neither can seem to figure out what they want from each other at this point.

The première episode does a quick and thorough job at setting out the Sirens agenda by rolling out a rapid-fire series of jokes related to online porn, penis size, ethnic (Irish, mostly) stereotypes and the long-term toll of fractured-family dynamics.

In the opener, the guys respond to a call involving a man having a cardiac crisis; as they wheel him into the hospital, he begs for a favour. "Do you want us to call your wife?" asks Brian; "No, I want you to go to my condo, clear the browser history on my computer, and then call my wife," he answers.

Against their better judgment, they do, and before they can clear the inevitable online porn load from the man's desktop computer, they're subjected to a video so bizarre that it leaves them all speechless. The moment is very well played, and it sets up a number of rather funny payoffs later in the episode.

Subsequent instalments provided for preview mine similar thematic territory, first when Brian's naive insistence on tracking down the subject of a dying man's last words leads the boys into uncomfortable territory, and later when Johnny and Hank pay a heavy karmic price for trying to short-change a bunch of kids at a CPR class so they can sneak away to a Bears game.

The dialogue is quick and sharp, the situations are relatable and the cast does a great job of making all the characters immediately likable.

Sirens also boasts a number of notable guest-star appearances, including Jean Smart and Lenny Clarke as Johnny's divorced and forever-feuding parents, Bill Nunn as the crew's sagely-wise commander, Saturday Night Live alumna Nora Dunn and Leary's erstwhile Rescue Me stablemate John Scurti.

Within the contraints of its limited framework and crude-humour mandate, Sirens delivers a steady and often-inspired stream of out-loud laughs. Having left Rescue Me and its tortured agenda behind, Leary is looking solely for lighter-side laughs this time out, and fans of his direct brand of humour will be glad to learn that he's found lots, and is more than happy to share them.

 

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2014 C3

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