Nurse Jackie: “Pilot” and “Sweet ‘n’ All”
Posted by therebelprince on July 22, 2009
I’m a little late to the party on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, but I’ll be catching up speedily.
Despite any impression to the contrary, Nurse Jackie is one of those wonderful and rare little shows which is neither a soap opera nor a concept series. Instead, it is primarily a reflective drama on the life of Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco), a nurse at New York hospital All Saints.
Around her, she mentors a nursing student Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever), antagonises Dr. Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli), a fresh faced attending physician, and conducts an affair with pharmacist Eddie Walzer (Paul Schulze, reprising the great relationship he shared with Falco on The Sopranos).
Falco is – as always – great to watch. She’s a woman with a real-life history, and she effortlessly melts into roles: tough prison guard Diane on Oz, mafioso wife Carmela on The Sopranos, and now this no-nonsense yet incredibly endearing woman seen here.
Jackie as a character defies easy categorisation. She does bad things – stabbing the tire of a passer-by who disses her; she does vengeful things – disposing of a misogynistic patient’s ear down a toilet; and she does good things – disdainfully helping a woman who chokes at a nearby restaurant table. But her motto, paraphrasing St. Augustine, is “Make me good, God, but not yet.”
Much ink has been spilled over the fact that Showtime markets Jackie as a “competent nurse” when many would say that her actions are just the opposite. I’m not sure I care to place a bet either way, at least not at this early stage. She certainly deals brusquely with her patients, and she’s not necessarily a moral centre, but as she says to Zoey :”Doctors are here to diagose, not heal. WE heal.” Her commitment is ultimately to her patients’ well-being in the longer term, I would argue. Further down the track, though, I’m sure I’ll develop an opinion.
This ambiguity in her character comes out best in her relationship with her husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa, right). She shares a close homelife with him and their two young daughters, which makes her hidden drug addiction and adultery all that more fascinating. We don’t see all that much of Eddie in the first two episodes, but his relationship with her seems to stand on an equal footing with that of her husband. In fact, the two don’t seem to be miles apart: Jackie takes in Eddie’s discussion of the “God particle” and passes it on to Kevin. I applaud the show’s attempt to examine a realistic affair, and I look forward to seeing where this goes (the promos for episode three suggest the noose is going to tighten).
Meanwhile, we’re treated to wonderful character building for both Zoey and Coop. The two of them shirk their initial impressions to become well-rounded characters: Zoey as an idealistic but uncertain nurse, and Coop as the handsome and intelligent doctor, who happens to have zero faith in himself.
Also along for the ride: Haaz Sleiman as Jackie’s close friend and fellow nurse Mohammed, or “Mo Mo”. He’s a blithe and boisterous character whom I hope to see more sides of. Eve Best puts in a small supporting appearance as Jackie’s only doctor friend Eleanor O’Hara. I’m not sure quite yet where she fits into the collage yet, but I’m enjoying Best’s performance.
Variety accused the series of being “all style and limited substance”, and I heartily disagree. I suspect what confuses people is that Nurse Jackie is not a concept show. This isn’t Jackie the head nurse leading a crack team of students while tackling her Vicodin addiction. Nor is it a hospital soap opera in which everyone trades places in a sexual game of musical chairs. Instead, it is a surprisingly lowbrow character study, which is why the second episode’s wacky subplot – in which Jackie’s boss Mrs. Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) accidentally swallos Jackie’s emergency Percocet stash – falls flat. Deavere Smith is rightly revered as an actress, so I hope she gets to do more than act as the token hospital bureaucrat.
*We get some nice guest appearances from Angela Pietropinto and then Erin Dilly as concerned mothers of patients in episodes one and two, respectively. We’ll see Swoosie Kurtz and Blythe Danner amongst other theatre heavyweights coming up, so we’d better settle in.
* And it’s neither here nor there, but I really enjoyed this query from Jammer’s Reviews on whether pilot episodes should have names. (For the record, I certainly agree.)
*This week’s shoutout goes to Alan Sepinwall’s reviews. I hate to link to him, because he so thoroughly upstages me, but he’s required reading in this game!
I’ll be back later this week to look at episodes three and four of the series, before hopefully getting back on track by the end of July.