[06/08/09 - 12:06 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(Mondays at 10:30/9:30c starting tonight)

The network's description: "NURSE JACKIE is a half-hour dark comedy that is at turns wicked, heartbreaking and funny. Edie Falco stars as the title character Jackie O'Hurley, a strong-willed and brilliant -- but very flawed -- emergency room nurse in a complicated New York City hospital. A lapsed Catholic with an occasional weakness for Vicodin and Adderall to get her through the days, Jackie keeps the hospital balanced with her own kind of justice. Every day is a high wire act of juggling patients, doctors, fellow nurses and her own indiscretions."

What did they leave out? Steve Buscemi directed three of the show's 12 episodes. Also look for guest spots by Eli Wallach as an elderly man tired of his endless treatments; Judith Ivey as Jackie's nursing mentor, who's looking to die with dignity; and Blythe Danner and Swoosie Kurtz as Cooper's parents.

The plot in a nutshell: Nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) is surrounded by idiots. Whether they be doctors like Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli), who's more torn up about whether to upgrade to an iPhone than fully diagnose a patient; or administrators like Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), who's more interested in making sure the rules are followed rather than letting actual healing get done, Jackie's got her work cut out for her at All Saints Hospital. Thankfully she's got a few troops on her side: Mo-mo (Haaz Sleiman), a fellow nurse who shares her gallows sense of humor; newbie Zoey Barkow (Merritt Weaver), a shrinking violet who worships the ground she walks on; Eleanor O'Hara (Eve Best), the only doctor with a brain (but no heart); and Eddie Walzer (Paul Schulze), the resident pharmacist who supplies his stash (and his bed) as much as Jackie needs. You see, fighting the good fight with a bad back isn't easy - so a bump of Percocet (or two) each day helps keep things running. And she's going to need it too as (based on the six episodes provided for review) there's old men (and old friends) looking to die with dignity; boys falling from jungle gyms; foreign nationals whose hookers cut off their ears; 10-year-old girls looking after their Lupus-stricken mothers; bike messengers who leave nothing behind for their loved ones; and gall bladders in lesbian mothers to be removed. It turns out however that Jackie has far more on her plate than we originally thought - a husband (Dominic Fumusa) and two daughters (Ruby Jerins, Daisy Tahan) at home, none of which are aware of her workplace shenanigans... and vice versa.

What works: Falco remains a tour de force performer - there's a unique energy and gravitas to her that's always worth checking out. Her supporting cast proves to be likeable and fun - my favorites being Facinelli's surprisingly funny Cooper, a frat boy who reacts to stress by making inappropriate sexual advances but who may actually turn out to be a great doctor; and Weaver's enjoyable quirky Zoey, whose doe-eyed innocence and bunny rabbit covered scrubs likewise may beguile a top notch nurse in training. All in all, it's a (for the most part) breezy enough half-hour that feels right at home with its lead-in "Weeds."

What doesn't: Despite her crackerjack quips and polished skills, Jackie ultimately comes across as a horrible person - she cheats on her husband and leaves her kids wondering where she is every night because... why is that again exactly? Because the doctors are mostly morons and she, like the mythical Atlas, is holding the world of All Saints on her bad back? True or not, even if we're just to accept that she's a broken person from the start, we're never quite given a reason to root for her. Seeing Jackie paper over her problems she herself is causing - oldest Grace, for instance, is developing an anxiety disorder due to her disappearing mom - is downright painful to sit through. And while I get that's kind of the point - the caretaker can't take care of herself - it doesn't make it any more enjoyable to watch beyond the superficial. We don't ever see her fight her demons, we just watch her disappear into a medically induced haze and avoid them. (Not helping matters: the increasingly silly notion that she's hid her husband from nearly all of her co-workers - and vice versa - for years on end.) Overall it's not that "Jackie" is a bad show - its comedic sensibilities often can be a hoot - it's just that I'm in no rush to watch people selfishly throw away their perfect lives in the name of the horror that is the grind of everyday life...

The bottom line: ...and I'm probably in the minority for saying that.

  [june 2009]  


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