TV Review Nugget: Nurse Jackie
My list of the best television dramas of all time reads like an HBO promo spot; I loved all aspects of The Wire, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos, but since those ended (with the exception of True Blood) HBO has left me wanting more and badly. The network’s chief competition in the realm of premium cable original programming, Showtime, has tended to offer less expert, more salacious fare in the past with the exception of the deliciously quirky Weeds and The United States of Tara; the L Word, Californication, and Dexter lack the complexity of HBO’s banner shows and are more comparable to the intriguing but one-dimensional Oz. Fortunately, Showtime scores a big win with Nurse Jackie, premiering tonight on Showtime and also available online. The sharp writing and solid performances in this thirty-minute comedy/drama continues Showtime’s recent attempt to offer high quality award-winning level stuff, so much so that I just may subscribe to the network (or at least likewise hustle to make sure I catch every episode).
Defying the traditional soap-opera/blood-and-guts setting of hospital shows, Nurse Jackie has something up its sleeve from the start. The much-missed Edie Falco is Jackie Peyton, a character whose complexities are so well conveyed that I thought of neither Carmella Soprano nor ER a single time. By presenting Jackie’s daily highs (snorting Adderall for a pick-me up) and lows (forging a dead patient’s organ donor card), the show taunts viewer morality by refusing to let on which is supposed to be which. Jackie is a steely but warm, good but screwed up woman, whose motivations smooth over her questionable actions. Jackie has a professional desire to heal – as opposed to doctors who merely ‘diagnose.’ This theme runs heavily throughout the pilot but hopefully won’t be beaten to death every episode. Our understanding of why Jackie constantly crosses the line makes Nurse Jackie less of a dark comedy and more of a comedy that’s just messed up sometimes. Every aspect of the pilot- from Jackie stealing from the rich in favor of the poor, to the juicy plot twist at the end – plays like real life in the gray areas.
Falco is supported by an equally enjoyable cast whose characters I look forward to learning. Highlights include Peter Schulze (best known as Father Intintola on The Sopranos) as Eddie, a pharmacist that Jackie sleeps with for drugs. Lebanese eye candy Haaz Sleiman, from last year’s sappy but slept-on film The Visitor, is Jackie’s GBF (Gay Best Friend), and the impeccable Anna Deavere Smith pops up as a hospital administrator. Edie Falco and Anna Deavere Smith on the small screen together is like a fresh cup of mint tea, so I would watch Nurse Jackie just for that. But I plan on making Nurse Jackie a favorite because it’s simply well done television; both the show and the character have a mean streak and a saintly streak, a combination that works impressively well.