When Nurse Jackie opens to Edie Falco reciting T.S. Eliot to the strains of Dionne Warwick singing Theme from Valley of the Dolls you just know we’re in for something different.
In the crowded TV world of medical dramas it’s no surprise that Showtime is looking for a point of difference and it has it in ‘Nurse Jackie Peyton.’
On the floor of New York’s All Saints Hospital she is many things, but principally, one helluva nurse who knows the job like the back of her hand. Skilled, intelligent, tough and pragmatic, Jackie is there for the greater good. But she’s also imperfect, and it is in the cracks in her character that this thirty minute drama shines.
“What do you call a nurse with a bad back?” her voice over asks. “Unemployed.” When we meet Jackie it’s clear the relentless workload has already taken its toll. She is addicted to Oxycotin painkillers snorted around the corner from patients whose lives she is saving (Dr. Gregory House is also addicted to painkillers and it hasn’t damaged his popularity any). As the pilot episode unfolds, Jackie takes the flaws a little further.
Jackie is rarely cheerful, flatly telling talkative patients, “Quiet and Mean are my people.” In a restaurant when a woman is choking on her meal she hesitates, cherishing her time off duty while esitmating the time it will take before brain damage sets in.
But somewhere beneath her resilience lays the heart of a guardian angel. When the young and inept Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli) ignores her advice and loses a patient it is Jackie who is left to pick up the pieces with a grieving family. She reprimands Cooper who clearly doesn’t know this city, and the people who inhabit her ward, as well as she.
Edie Falco sets a profound benchmark with Nurse Jackie, utterly believable in this most intriguing character. Her wearied face looks like it has lived through years of emergency cases, medical politics, double shifts and shrinking budgets. She is resolute, fragile, harangued, stubborn and occasionally unethical.
The supporting cast includes Merrit Wever as wet-around-the-ears first year nursing student Zoey Barkow, Paul Schulze as pharmacist Eddie Walzer, Eve Best as Dr. O’Hara and gay co-worker nurse Mohammed ‘Mo-Mo’ de la Cruz (Haaz Sleiman). With ‘Mo-Ho’ Jackie escapes from the pressure and bleak Emergency Ward, having deep and meaningful conversations on the pews of the hospital chapel.
Nurse Jackie is a stark essay, but with a glimmer of hope. At just thirty minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome. At the disappointing timeslot of 10:25pm Sunday, when TEN notoriously struggles, there is more hope in the storyline than in its likelihood of success here. If you have faith in good writing, good performances and an engaging storyline none of this should deter you.
And just wait for the final scene.
Nurse Jackie airs 10:25pm Sunday on TEN.