Televison Review: HawthoRNe is Not Good, Not Black
Do you like or even love Hugh Laurie’s House? Have you had alternating crushes on J.D. and Turk from Scrubs these past few years, or just enjoyed the quirky humor of the show? Did you watch E.R. way longer than most people, and even then wonder in amazement that it was still on the air? In fact, did you read my review of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie last week and then proceed to watch and enjoy an original show about medical professionals? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is likely that any attempt to watch TNT’s HawthoRNe will land you a few channels away at NBC’s tried and true Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit, which also airs on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM. And if you choose L&O over HawthoRNe don’t feel guilty about not “supporting” black television; aside from being not a very good show, HawthorRNe is not at all a black show, either.
TNT has built some great strong female characters including Brenda Lee Johnson on The Closer (which I love) and Grace from Saving Grace (which I’ve politely passed on). Jada Pinkett-Smith’s role as Christina Hawthorne, a widowed single mother and nurse, is no exception to that girl power theme, but what Pinkett’s character is lacking that the current leading ladies of TNT have is that certain je ne sais quoi. She lacks quirks, panache, and genuine personality, essential elements of character development that have been replaced by the earnest hand-wringing and heart-wrenching inevitable in the ol’ “nurses care so much that it hurts,” concept. Unfortunately, the nursing profession alone cannot carry a character or show, which does not bode well for HawthorNE. The average television viewer in 2009 is barely fazed by a code blue cardiac arrest or a banged up accident victim in a neck brace gushing with blood – we’re desensitized to the realities (or dramatizations) of hospital life by now and need something more to entertain us. HawthoRNe misses viewer sophistication levels by a long shot with faux-sensational topics like interracial relationships and male nurses, and further rehashes basic themes like dealing with loss and raising teenagers with little revision to anything we’ve seen before. Also, I need to mention my irritation at former cutie Michael Vartan’s overly Botox’d face and the cheesiness of the RN capitalization in the show’s title because those two unfortunate misses were the final straw.
Jada is black Hollywood royalty after all, so can’t I say something positive? As an actress Pinkett is consistent – she’s never amazing and never bad, and her performance in the HawthoRNe premiere is no exception. Her supporting cast is also just fine, with bright spots Suleka Matthew as an atractive Indian doctor with a prosthetic leg, guest Aisha Hinds as a homeless mother with a heart of gold, and a drive-by-performance by Joanna Cassidy as Pinkett’s mother-in-law. I’m sure that there will be a number of fun-to-watch actors on the show in the future, but there is one important thing to remember: this is not a black show. Not only could Christina Hawthorne have been played by any actress of any color, the story itself does nothing to deal with her experience as a black woman, and her family life – in spite of the fact that her deceased husband was white and her daughter is biracial – is further standard fare. We’re at the point in black culture where simply hoping to see a brown face on television won’t cut it. Should we really get excited just because a black actress with as much pull as Jada is getting work, even if lacks any black narrative whatsoever? I have to say no. HawthoRNE is far from a triumph for black television or black Hollywood, so don’t feel badly about not “supporting” it if you realize for yourself that it’s just more of the same.
If you missed the oh-so-thick promotion that TNT’s been laying on, check out the HawthoRNe sneak peak and/or try to catch the full episode in re-runs.