Judge Clark Douglas might need some heavy painkillers to get through another season of this show.
Our reviews of Nurse Jackie: Season One (published March 18th, 2010), Nurse Jackie: Season One (Blu-ray) (published February 23rd, 2010), and Nurse Jackie: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published February 21st, 2011) are also available.
High and mighty.
"This isn't coming from HR. This is coming straight from me."
Facts of the Case
So much has changed since last season. Actually, that's not true. Everything is still basically the same. Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco, The Sopranos) is still a gifted nurse who struggles with her addiction to painkillers. She's surrounded by a whole bunch of quirky co-workers, and has a number of complicated relationships that tend to wander in and out of rough patches. She'll solve medical problems, attempt to cope with her addiction and make snappy remarks as moderately amusing incidents occur. Will Jackie ever kick her habit, completely succumb to her addiction or otherwise demonstrate any kind of forward (or backward) momentum? Find out in Nurse Jackie: Season Three!
Edie Falco is a terrific actress, but she deserves better than Nurse Jackie. I'm not talking about the character she's been given. No, Jackie is actually a fascinating, complex individual who remains the highlight of each and every program. Falco consistently hits just the right notes in the role, and has fun contrasting the flinty, judgmental All-Star Nurse with the increasingly pathetic junkie. She makes even the worst episodes kind of engaging with her exceptional work, and she will undoubtedly continue to rack up Emmy nominations for as long as the show remains on the air.
In fact, if someone were to watch any random half-hour of Nurse Jackie, they'd probably come away with the impression that it's a decent show. The cast is solid, it's constantly tapping at darker things beneath the surface and there are usually a handful of chuckles to be had. But damn, this show is frustrating to watch in full-season doses (as I have). While watching the penultimate episode of Nurse Jackie: Season Three, I made the somewhat depressing realization that I could have jumped in at that very point and not missed anything significant. Sure, I wouldn't have seen the complications between Jackie and Eddie, or the complications between Jackie and O'Hara, or the baby steps forward and back in terms of Jackie's addiction—but in the end, the show just hits the reset button and keeps plugging along. By the end of the third season, we're watching the exact same program and the exact same characters we were watching at the beginning of the first season.
That's not a terrible thing for every show. Some perfectly entertaining sitcoms—say, Everybody Loves Raymond—don't allow their characters to change very much over the course of their run. It's not about the journeys people are on, it's about hanging out with fun people every week. Alas, Nurse Jackie can't pull that off, because it isn't entertaining enough to serve as a hangout show. There are occasional laughs, sure, but they're easily matched by the number of misfired gags. Additionally, given the entirely humor-free time the show spends on its dramatic subplots, it's clear that we're expected to take quite a bit of it seriously, but the intensity of the drama is consistently deflated out of fear of ruining the fun vibe. There's a number of good shows lurking within Nurse Jackie—granted, one feels a lot like Scrubs and the other feels a lot like Breaking Bad—but instead it chooses to occupy an exasperatingly bland middle ground.
What makes the third season in particular frustrating is that the cast is on fire. The comic stylings of Peter Facinelli (The Big Kahuna) have never been better, Merritt Wever's (Signs) performance is more delightfully loopy and inventive than ever before and the previously ho-hum Stephen Wallem is actually killing it as the easily-wounded Thor. But their better-than-ever work is balanced out by worse-than-ever writing, which frequently hangs the characters out to dry in awful running subplots. Anna Deveare Smith (Rachel Getting Married) is a terrific actress, but the two storylines she's given (one in which she loses and attempts to buy back a number of religious statues, another in which she attempts to persuade Michelle Obama to pay a visit to her hospital) are comedic dead-ends that become tedious long before they conclude. Jackie's family is merely regarded as a plot device this season, and for some reason the show has decided that we're actually supposed to like the irredeemably creepy Eddie again.
Nurse Jackie: Season Three (Blu-ray) looks just fine in 1.78:1/1080p hi-def, though the show's typically clinical palette does little to distinguish it from a host of other medical shows. Detail is crisp and clean, blacks are satisfactorily deep and flesh tones are natural. For whatever reason, the show has received a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix which does little to disguise the fact the show is simple and dialogue-driven. The music actually takes a dip in quality this season, as it oversells the comic moments and makes the unsuccessful ones even more grating. It's a crisp, clean track, though. You actually get some supplements this time, including five audio commentaries (three featuring Edie Falco, Richie Jackson, Linda Wallem, Liz Brixius, two featuring Anna Deveare Smith and Paul Schultz), two disposable featurettes ("Inside Akalitus" and "Jackie's Guys") and a gag reel.
Nurse Jackie isn't a terrible show, but it is terribly frustrating. It squanders more potential than nearly any other program on pay cable, and that occasionally makes it even more exasperating than some flat-out bad shows. Sure, it ends with the promise of big changes just around the corner, but so did season one and season two, and those promises turned out to be completely empty. After three seasons, I think it's time to stop thinking of Nurse Jackie as a flawed show with potential and simply categorize it as a disappointment.
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