Last season "Rescue Me" elated diehard fans by expanding to 22 episodes, but the show was marred by inconsistency. Following a couple sub-par seasons, I wondered if this once-magnificent drama was losing steam.

Last season "Rescue Me" elated diehard fans by expanding to 22 episodes, but the show was marred by inconsistency. Following a couple sub-par seasons, I wondered if this once-magnificent drama was losing steam.

What "Rescue Me" did so well early on but has lacked in the last few seasons was seamlessly blending sharp humor with dark themes (guilt, loss and the lasting effect of 9/11).

Sadly, the same show that was adamant in its disdain for America's short-term memory of 9/11's devastation and tragic heroes has shifted away from all that. The main focus now is the superficial drama of the firehouse. It's becoming more of a soap opera for dudes.

Season six's first few episodes show signs of last season's unevenness. Some particularly great moments are matched by some particularly lackluster ones.

Quickly answering last season's so-called cliffhanger - would "Rescue Me" really kill off Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary)? - season six begins with repercussions from the shootout. An alcoholic Tommy faces ultimatums, and the firehouse is now on the chopping block.

Fortunately, the third episode harkens back to the good ol' days. But co-creator Peter Tolan directed the first two, which makes me uneasy. He usually produces quality work; not so much here.

Here's hoping all this season needs is some time to return to form.