At first glance, The Job, a show about NYC policemen that aired from 2001-2002, and Rescue Me, about NYC firefighters, are much alike. In both, Denis Leary plays a curmudgeonly, hard-drinking, chain-smoking adulterer. But while the post-9/11 series is beloved by critics, The Job was less popular. It centres on Mike McNeil (Leary), an asshole of the sort you don’t often find on network television. The Job: The Complete Season shows Mike in all his obnoxiousness, and includes creators Leary and Peter Tolan’s commentary on five episodes, cast interviews, and a gag reel, as well as an “interview” with Leary and Tolan, who lament that their edgy series was too honest in portraying police life, and mishandled by a network unable to market a show about a complete jerk.
The Job languished on ABC for 19 episodes before being cancelled. On the DVD, Leary says the show was “left alone in the best and worst sense.” It’s not hard to see why the promotion campaign floundered. How could a network accustomed to selling vapid and loveable characters encourage viewers to watch a slimeball juggle two relationships, multiple addictions, and a million lies? McNeil doesn’t even seem tormented. Even when tough-girl cop Jan (Diane Farr, who plays tough-girl firefighter Laura on Rescue Me) is shocked to find she may have breast cancer, the moment is overshadowed by McNeil’s selfishness and his inability to keep a secret. Indeed, Tolan says his favourite aspect of the show was when McNeil was “caught in a lie or telling a lie.”
Leary and Tolan’s desire to rehabilitate the sitcom not only meant changing the way characters interact with each other, but also the show’s structure, using handheld camera, no laugh track, and on-location shooting. While it pushed the envelope of network subject matter, its best moments emerged in its embrace of ridiculous situations. In the episode “Telescope,” McNeil and his sex-obsessed partners scam their way into a woman’s apartment across the street so they can remove an armoire blocking their view of her nude yoga sessions. In that same episode, lazy Frank Harrigan (comedian Lenny Clarke, also in Rescue Me) callously tosses a dead body to another precinct’s jurisdiction, so he can avoid doing actual work. While other cop shows were becoming increasingly technical (CSI) or ripping stories from headlines (Law & Order), The Job toed a more “realistic” line, with fallible, complex detectives.
More than anything, The Job is about those cops’ efforts to deal with and sometimes avoid their difficult “job.” To that end, it deploys a strong ensemble cast. Pip (Bill Nunn), McNeil’s partner, is a useful comic foil. Kept on the straight and narrow by his overbearing, deeply religious wife Adina (Janet Hubert-Whitten), he and McNeil remind us of Felix and Oscar, barely tolerant of each other’s quirks. The Job‘s portrayal of their partnership is based in part on input from former police officer Mike Charles, who served as technical advisor. As Leary explains in the interview featured on the DVD, he met Charles while filming the The Thomas Crown Affair and used his experiences on the force as a template for the series.
When Pip asks McNeil to confirm whether his “ass is getting bigger” in the first episode, or when Tommy (Adam Ferrara) is nearly driven to tears over his partner Lenny’s apparent heart attack, such moments feel more authentic than the chilly cop dramas Dick Wolf churns out in his sleep. In the pilot, we see the series’ only focus on crime-fighting per se: Leary is chasing after a suspect when he runs out of breath and drops to one knee. At a time when many cop shows portray their protagonists as heroic, this cop’s weakness, the result of his smoking and drinking, seems reasonable.