Judge Victor Valdivia's medical expertise involves using Band-Aids and Robitussin to treat every illness and malady.
Our reviews of Nurse Jackie: Season One (Blu-ray) (published February 23rd, 2010), Nurse Jackie: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published February 21st, 2011), and Nurse Jackie: Season Three (Blu-ray) (published March 27th, 2012) are also available.
Nurse Jackie is a series on Showtime about a nurse whose tumultuous personal life is coming to a disastrous turning point. That description seems like a show that could be interesting and unusual. Certainly, with an actress as talented as The Sopranos' Edie Falco, you could at least expect something that's above the norm for most TV shows. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Despite all of the explicitness and edginess characteristic of other Showtime shows like Dexter and Weeds, Nurse Jackie is, at its core, just a mediocre medical comedy/drama that's barely a cut above your average episode of Scrubs.
Facts of the Case
Nurse Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco, Oz) works at All Saints Hospital in NYC, but to say she's been leading a double life is an understatement. To her coworkers, such as her friends Nurse Mohamed "Mo-Mo" De La Cruz (Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor) and Dr. Eleanor O'Hara (Eve Best, Vital Signs), as well as her nursing student Zoey Barkow (Meritt Wever, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), she's spectacularly good at her job, dispensing medicine and healing people without being rattled or overwhelmed. What they don't know is that she's a barely functional drug addict whose desire for painkillers is becoming more and more problematic. All Saints' pharmacist Eddie Walzer (Paul Schulze, 24) has been carrying on an affair with Jackie for nearly a year, convinced that what they have is a special relationship. He and nearly everyone else except Dr. O'Hara are unaware, however, that she has been married to her high school sweetheart Kevin (Dominic Fumusa, As the World Turns) for over 20 years and they have two daughters together. Jackie struggles to keep her multiple lives from crashing down, but it's becoming increasingly harder to do so, especially after the cocky but undeniably talented Dr. Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli, Fastlane) arrives at the hospital and takes an interest in her. Here are the 12 episodes compiled on three discs:
The liner notes to Nurse Jackie promise that you'll get all the episodes of the first season of the "groundbreaking" series, and that right there indicates the major problem with the show. You do indeed get all 12 episodes, but to call this series "groundbreaking" is a significant overstatement. There are some very good elements to Nurse Jackie but as the season progresses, it becomes apparent that it thinks it's far more incisive and shocking than it actually is.
In fact, the basic template of Nurse Jackie is actually pretty routine. How many series have we seen in which we learn that such previously hallowed professions as police officer, firefighter, and, of course, doctor, are full of far more flawed individuals than we previously thought? How many shows have demystified and deconstructed these supposedly sacred jobs to demonstrate that those who perform them are not godly saints with higher spiritual impulses but actual imperfect human beings with feet of clay? All Nurse Jackie does is essentially plug in the module labeled "nurse" into the basic formula, and while it's true that there haven't been many quite so many series built around a nurse (as opposed to a doctor), the standard plotlines that have made up the bulk of previous shows of its ilk are present here. The idea of making Jackie into a maverick who bends the rules and taunts her superiors in order to get the job done is standard issue for a character like this. If Jackie was a pill-popping adulteress who was terrible at her job, she probably wouldn't have a series made about her.
So the premise isn't original. That needn't be fatal. Plenty of TV shows have mined clichéd stories and turned them into creative hits with a combination of great characterization and solid writing. Unfortunately, those are not Nurse Jackie's strong suits. The characters are just as unimaginatively conceived and written as the story. Jackie's husband Kevin is possibly the dullest, most forgettable cuckold in TV history. The idea, apparently, is that he's depicted as a nice guy so that viewers will have to work to understand why Jackie would cheat on him so recklessly, but the problem isn't that he's nice-it's that he has no spark or energy whatsoever, not in the writing or in Fumusa's lackluster performance. Her coworkers are equally hackneyed. There's the boss that's more interested in bureaucracy and finances, the best gay friend, the naïve young protégé, the callow but gifted upstart, and so on. These characters aren't particularly developed as the season progresses-they're all pretty much defined in the pilot episode and stay the same in the season finale. Each one gets to deliver little lines and scenes that are supposed to flesh them out but they don't pay off or add anything, since almost none of them are referred to ever again. Zoey, for instance, is supposed to be given more added depth during one episode in the middle of the season when she blurts out that her father is in jail for manslaughter. This revelation could have led to an interesting idea for a story that shows how her naiveté is really an act, but it's never mentioned again, either in the episode or the rest of the season, and she continues to be the same fluffy bunny at the end that she was at the beginning. The writers no doubt felt that this line was "edgy" and "clever," but if it's not going to add anything to the show, then why bother?
That line sums up another major problem with Nurse Jackie: too often the writing is contorted into increasingly ludicrous convolutions to accommodate supposedly edgy material. In particular, the running storyline that Jackie keeps her marriage a secret from every single one of her coworkers except Dr. O'Hara doesn't make any sense. Oh, it's theoretically supposed to set up the idea that Jackie has compartmentalized every aspect of her life, except that it's senseless to imagine that not a single one of her coworkers, especially Eddie, hasn't once asked to go home with her or even if she has any family. What this storyline does is add unnecessary complications, particularly in one gruesome scene where Jackie goes to extreme lengths when she can't remove her wedding ring at work. This isn't character development-it's cheap shock value. Similarly, the first time Jackie punishes a loathsome patient in a way that somehow stays within the limits of her job yet is still suitably grisly, we can laugh vicariously. The second time she does so, it's just gratuitous. Just because Nurse Jackie airs on pay-cable doesn't mean it can substitute explicitness for actual depth. Instead, how about a happy medium-storylines that are actually insightful without meandering just to include explicitness for explicitness' sake? If Nurse Jackie can do that, then it will be worthy to be mentioned in the same breath as other shows of its type. Until then, it's an unfortunate also-ran at best.
Lionsgate's DVD presentation for Nurse Jackie isn't particularly great. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is adequate but hardly earth-shattering. Colors are muted and the image isn't sharp or bright. It gets the job done but that's it. There are options for either a 5.1 surround mix or a 2.0 stereo mix, but they're pretty much identical, since the surrounds aren't used very much if at all. Even in scenes set in the Emergency Room, you won't hear much ambient noise. The extras consist of four commentaries on the episodes "Pilot," "Tiny Bubbles," "Ring Finger," and "Health Care and Cinema," with Falco and the show's creators and executive producers. These are mildly interesting but don't go into much depth. There are also three featurettes: "All About Edie" (5:26), "Unsung Heroes" (5:32), and "Prepping Nurse Jackie" (10:55). These all have some minor moments of interest but also tend to the superficial. Finally, there are five one-minute "Nurse Stories" in which real-life nurses relate some amusing anecdotes about their jobs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one good aspect to Nurse Jackie is Edie Falco. Even with the subpar writing and characterization, she remains one of the most compelling actresses on TV. Her performance is actually better than the writing, with her cut-the-crap line readings and flawless comic timing giving Jackie more dimensions than the dialogue and plots ever do. Of the supporting cast members, only Wever and Facinelli rise above their material, frequently providing the biggest laughs in many episodes. They and Falco are the real reasons anyone will sit through the show, and even if their best moments are few and far between, they're frequent enough that anyone will put up with Nurse Jackie's indulgences for a season.
Also, the musical score, by former Prince collaborators Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, is without exception gorgeous and evocative. In particular, the ballad that closes "Tiny Bubbles" is one of the best songs they've ever recorded. If Nurse Jackie ever issues a soundtrack, it will be worth getting.
Maybe in 1999, Nurse Jackie would have been seen as a groundbreaking series, but by 2009, after shows like House, The Shield, Rescue Me, and Southland, amongst many others, it's simply not enough just to have a flawed protagonist with a life-and-death job. While it's commendable that this is possibly the first show of its type with a female protagonist, an actress of Edie Falco's caliber deserves far better than the cardboard supporting characters and overwritten storylines that make up too much of this series. Don't be fooled by the Showtime-style explicitness-strip out the gore and profanity and what's left is mediocre and convoluted. Nurse Jackie is only worth caring about if you're a huge Falco or medical series fan.
Guilty of taking an OK idea and then doing little with it.
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