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Case Number 19096

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HawthoRNe: The Complete First Season

Sony // 2009 // 430 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 16th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan isn't afraid to break rules to keep a movie alive.

Editor's Note

Our review of HawthoRNe: The Complete Second Season, published June 16th, 2011, is also available.

The Charge

Every patient needs a hero.

Opening Statement

When I was growing up, a season that ran less than twenty episodes meant a show either started late or ended early. Then came the cable companies like HBO. Because they didn't have the traditional structure of their network counterparts, they didn't have to treat their original material in the same way. This led to shows like The Sopranos and Deadwood featuring only a dozen episodes. This involved less risk for the producers, but allowed them to raise budgets and still give fans the feeling of watching a sizeable season. As the twenty-first century rolls slowly along, networks seem to be more accepting of the shorter season format. Hopefully this will lead to a little more variety in programming. Certainly it helps a show like Hawthorne, which should develop a sizeable following due to star Jada Pinkett Smith, but is unlikely to become a hit. Although its reception has been lukewarm (with good reason), Hawthorne: The Complete First Season is on DVD in a package sure to please fans and newcomers alike.

Facts of the Case

Christina Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett Smith) is the head of nursing at Richmond Trinity Hospital. It's been a year since her husband died, and she's trying to raise a rebellious teenager at home while dealing with the chaos at work. She has to keep her nursing staff doing their job in addition to mediating between the doctors and nurses. Whatever she's doing, Hawthorne is looking out for her patients, and she isn't afraid to break the rules if it keeps one of her charges alive.

Sony presents all ten episodes of the first season on three discs:

Disc One
• "Pilot"
• "Healing Time"
• "Yielding"
• "All the Wrong Places"

Disc Two
• "The Sense of Belonging"
• "Trust Me"
• "Night Moves"

Disc Three
• "No Guts, No Glory"
• "Mother's Day"
• "Hello and Goodbye"

The Evidence

Late in the pilot episode, a nurse turns to Hawthorne and actually says "Whose side are you on?" Jada Pinkett Smith as Hawthorne turns around and replies, "Right now, the patient's." That pretty much summed up the show for me. The situation is a bit complex, but it boils down to the fact that this nurse chose to follow orders he knew were wrong because nurses don't have the power to direct patient care and those orders led to the patient's crash. It's cookie-cutter emotion: put the underdog nurse up against the know-it-all doctor and watch the sparks fly as the audience roots for the nurse/patient combo over the uncaring doctors. Throw that lovely bit of dialogue on top and the show reached a surprisingly cliched peak. That kind of rehashing should pretty much do the show in, but surprisingly, Hawthorne is structured well enough, with competent enough craftsmanship, to work despite the fact that every single story beat has been done to death. Although nothing about the show is exceptional, everyone involved seems to be committed to making it work.

The most committed person is obviously Jada Pinkett Smith. She was on record saying she'd never do series television again, but she saw something in the script for Hawthorne that brought her on board. It's no accident that she's the only character I mentioned in my summary above: she's literally the center of the show and everything hinges on her character. That's another strange part of the show. One the one hand Nurse Hawthorne is an interesting character because she's a competent, intelligent woman placed in an impossible situation. On the other hand, the stories of Hawthorne pretty much require her to be perfect, which means it's going to be very hard for the writers to let her grow.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

One of the benefits of shorter seasons—besides the chance that marginal shows get—is the additional DVD room for transfers and extras. For this reason, Hawthorne comes to DVD with a good audiovisual presentation and a decent number of featurettes. The shows look good, with strong detail and accurate colors. I didn't notice any significant compression problems, but black levels could have been a bit more consistent. The surround audio is a bit of a waste with a dialogue-heavy show like this one, but the occasional effect and music cue made it to the rear speakers. Extras start with an interview with star Jada Pinkett Smith. She's obviously enthusiastic about the show and explains her involvement. The rest of the extras are featurettes that cover everything from visual effects to the phenomenon of male nurses.

Although the vast majority of Hawthorne is run-of-the-mill medical drama theatrics, it was an interesting choice to make Hawthorne a nurse. It gives the audience a slightly more rounder perspective on medical situations (although, as I've read elsewhere, not a more accurate on really). Since so many medical dramas either ignore or slight nurses, it's nice to see more shows focusing on the men and women who provide the vast majority of patient contact in hospitals.

Closing Statement

Hawthorne is an average show in pretty much every respect. Viewers of medical dramas have seen most of these stories before, the acting ranges from very good to very not so good, and Hawthorne may as well call herself Superwoman or Saint for all the reality of her situation. Average doesn't mean bad, though. The characters are generally interesting and easy to relate to, the sitations familiar enough to be comforting, and its hard to avoid rooting for someone in Hawthorne's position. That makes a rental of Hawthorne: The Complete First Season an easy recommendation for fans for medical dramas or Lifetime-like strong-woman shows. Those who fell in love with Hawthorne on air will certainly enjoy this DVD set. All the episodes are given room to look good, and the extras are extensive enough to give a decent background on the show.

The Verdict

There are better medical dramas out there, but for now, Hawthorne is not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 93
Audio: 90
Extras: 85
Acting: 85
Story: 70
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 430 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes
• Interview


• IMDb
• Official Website

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