The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Nurse Jackie: “Chicken Soup” and “School Nurse”

Posted by therebelprince on July 26, 2009

In the third and fourth episodes of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, we continue to explore the complex life of our protagonist.

At home, Jackie and Kevin come up against problems when daughter Grace (Ruby Jerins) is flagged by the school psychologist. Grace has taken to watching documentaries about world wars, plague, global warming – any sign of the end times. The school pscyhologists are concerned that she has “anxiety disorder”, and are instantly falling over themselves to prescribe drugs and counselling sessions.

Jackie’s response is pretty typical, and seems entirely reasonable: they’re not going to drug her child based on a lack of colour in her drawings. It’s satisfying to see Jackie’s committment to her family life: so far there have been no contrived clashes between her work and children, and her feelings for her husband are real despite her relationship with Eddie (who spends much of “Chicken Soup” fretting that his job will be replaced by a machine). Some of the best scenes in the episode come from young Grace, who gets both comfort and fear from sitting at the end of her parents’ bed and watching the destruction of the world on television.

At work, meanwhile, everyone is more equally utilised than they were in the first two episodes, and all get some nice moments.

In “Chicken Soup”, Jackie goes up against Mrs. Akalitus over a dying patient (Eli Wallach), who is trying to hide his condition’s severity from his wife (Lynn Cohen). Both Wallach and Cohen are stalwarts who imbue the scenes with poignancy and soft humour, and it’s good to see Anna Deavere Smith get to add a dimension to the stoic Mrs. Akalitus. We’re reminded that, despite the bureaucracy, she is still a nurse – and her relationship with her staff is one of understanding while remaining clinical.

Dr. O’Hara gets plenty to do, which is a plus because Eve Best is a key highlight of the show. In “Chicken Soup”, she “borrows” Zoey’s stethoscope, and then spends the entire shift feigning ignorance, to see how long she can torture the nervous newbie into asking for it back. Merritt Wever has also nicely developed the nervous but sweet Zoey, while the greatest little moment in “School Nurse” comes when O’Hara, receiving a drawing of her from a child whose life she saved, regards it with a disdainful “Doesn’t look anything like me.”

Alongside all this, we get to see O’Hara, Zoey and Coop in surgical situations that present us with their professional strengths. It’s interesting to see Showtime’s take on an episodic medical drama. The various patients – Wallach and Cohen; a mother (Liza Colon-Zayas) whose son suffered a bad fall; a lovely couple (Anna Koonin and Jay Wilkison) from the Midwest – are all well-written and truthfully performed, but by and large take second place to the character development of the All Saints staff. I don’t want this to become Grey’s Anatomy (and thankfully so far no patients have possessed one of those dreadful thematic connections the main plot) but I’m ceratinly enjoying the little character nuggets so far.

Cooper takes a backseat this week, but gets in some nice moments: first, when he realises that his nickname (“Coop”) is catching on, and then when he is nervous but manages to be affable with an older patient. Mo-Mo remains the least used of the cast, but has two very well played scenes: the first as he cruises Coop, and the second when he tells Zoey the story of his connection with a long-dead twin.

I’ve barely mentioned Jackie this week, but mostly she continues down the same paths we explored in episodes one and two. She continues to barely keep her drug use under Kevin’s radar, and to maintain her own frank but caring treatment of patients. Falco is always a standout performer, but I’m not sure if it will be her life which crumbles first or those around her. (I think Eddie will be first to fall, though)

I’m still getting my head around this show: it’s part hospital drama, part character study, and occasionally a showcase for some great theatre actors. I’m enjoying the combination, and I hope that it can keep going strong once Jackie’s house of cards inevitably begins to tumble.

Maybe next week, I’ll have a few thoughts about the portrayal of nurses (or at least of Jackie as one), but for now check out this article and its comments and links. Also, see reviews at The TV Manifesto and King of TV.

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