"I don't like chatty. I don't do chatty. I like quiet. Quiet and mean -- those are my people." -Jackie PeytonAs mentioned yesterday when I linked to my Edie Falco interview (also available in transcript form!), I didn't get an opportunity to do a proper review of "Nurse Jackie" due to space and time constraints. So this review will be a bit more general than ones for later episodes.
"Nurse Jackie," the pilot in particular, is constructed out of a lot of second-hand parts. We have the medical professional who plays by her own rules ("House" among others), knows more than the people at the hospital who outrank her (ditto), has a painkiller addiction (triple ditto) and has an ongoing relationship that we discover at the episode's end is really an affair, because our heroine has a spouse and kids at home ("Mad Men").
(Note: I'm not saying "House" or "Mad Men" invented any of those tropes. If anything, I was amused when AMC requested we not reveal the end of the "Mad Men" pilot in our reviews, since it seemed so bloody obvious that Don was married, because I'd seen that beat so many other places. I'm just saying that those are two current shows that play in a lot of the same territory.)
But my opinion is that it's not the song, but how you sing it, and Edie Falco makes some beautiful damn music as Jackie.
Forget about any "she's so different from Carmela!" commentary, since that pretty much goes without saying. (The butch haircut alone oughta end that discussion.) Just taken as an isolated performance, it's wonderful: funny where she needs to be (loved Jackie's reaction to Coop grabbing her breast), not overly strident when she's tearing into authority figures(*), just the right amount of tender (which is to say around 10%) in those rare moments where Jackie's facade cracks even a little, and compelling throughout. It took me a couple of episodes to get on board with the show beyond Falco, but she's so damn good I would have given it a whole lot of rope before deciding the rest wasn't for me.
(*) "Nurse Jackie" is gonna look even better next week when TNT's nearly-identical -- but vastly inferior in every way -- "Hawthorne" debuts. I think Jada Pinkett's hands my be surgically glued to her hips in that show.
Yes, they lay on the Jackie-as-vigilante-nurse thing a bit thick here, between the organ donor forgery, the flushed ear, giving the stolen boots and money to the bike messenger's pregnant girlfriend, etc. But pilots often have to color in broad strokes to make an impression, then get more into nuance as they go forward.
But even here, I think Falco plays well off most of the cast, I like the undercurrent of Catholicism throughout, and it works as a dramedy. That is, it doesn't feel too short at 30 minutes, has a nice balance of pathos and laughs, and left me feeling satisfied at the end. (In that way, it's not unlike another show I'm writing about this summer, "Sports Night," though the tones and worldviews of the two shows couldn't be more different.)
Some other thoughts:
• Back when he was starring in Fox's short-lived "Fastlane," I noticed that Peter Facinelli not only looks a little like young Tom Cruise, but sounds exactly like him, and it's one of those things you can't un-learn. So I unfortunately spent a lot of his screen time here noticing that he's picked up on some other Cruise mannerisms over the years, like the way he flares his nostrils. I don't think it's intentional, and this is certainly preferable to, say Brad Rowe (a guy who had a career for a few years in the late '90s because he was a dead ringer for Brad Pitt, even though he couldn't act a lick), but I don't think I'm ever going to not be distracted by this.
• The one part of the pilot I really disliked was Anna Deveare Smith as the nosy hospital administrator. And, really, it took through nearly the sixth episode (the last I've seen in advance) to warm to her. Her character is the one part of the show that feels too broad and easy, and I say that as someone who usually believes the ADS hype.
• Getting back to "Hawthorne" for a moment, that show also features an overly chatty, neurotic, eager nursing student (Vanessa Lengies from "American Dreams"), and, for that matter, NBC's "Mercy" has Michelle Trachtenberg as its overly chatty, neurotic, eager nursing student. I haven't seen "Mercy" yet, other than a clip reel, but I expect Merritt Wever to own them all in in this category. She's hilarious.
• Yes, like everyone else, I'm weirded out by seeing Falco have on-screen sex with Paul Schulze, who played Father Phil -- who very much wanted to have sex with Carmela -- on "The Sopranos." But Schulze -- who, as Falco notes in our interview, has been in more than a dozen projects with her since their college days at SUNY Purchase -- is a really good actor who does some interesting things as Eddie, and I don't want to begrudge him the work just because of the weird meta level to it. By episode 2 or 3, you'll have hopefully (as I did) forgotten about the Father Phil factor.
What did everybody else think?