When I was at press tour earlier this month, I spent a few minutes talking to "Nurse Jackie" showrunners Liz Brixius (she's the tall one on the left) and Linda Wallem (on the right) about some unanswered questions from the first season (click here for my review of the season finale) and where they see the show going next year. Our conversation coming right up...
Something that's come up with a lot of my readers is about the logistics and the reasons behind Jackie keeping her family a secret from the folks at the hospital. How does she do this? She's been there forever and the kids are not that old. Presumably, she was pregnant at some point.
Brixius: ER nurses, the ones that Linda and I spoke with, you'll do maybe 3 years at St. Luke's, then go up to Harlem and do a thing, then go down to Bellevue. All Saints isn't going to have her entire history.
Wallem: I think people were thrown off by the (Judith Ivey) episode, they thought they had worked together for years. They had, but not necessarily at that hospital. And from our own experience of not being sober, what you do is you compartmentalize with your lies. It fuels the drama. You like to keep things separate. Season two, it's going to be a little harder for her to do that.
Brixius: It's not particularly original for us to say it, but if you build a better mousetrap, you get a smarter mouse. It's fun to watch Jackie navigate her own contraption.
How much, in your minds, does Jackie actually care about Eddie, and how much is she just using him to get the pills?
Brixius: She loves him. That's the complicated part of it all. People will say, 'Well, why would she (do that) with this amazing husband at home?' But you know what happens? You go to work in an ER, and it's like a tour of duty. You're watching people die, every single day, watching people come in with their guts spilled out. All you want to do is save their lives, and you can't go home and tell your husband who runs the bar that this is what your day was, and expect him to understand. But the guy next door in the pharmacy, he was there when you were trying to keep someone out of pain.
Wallem: But also part of being an addict is, whether it's a pill or a drink or a person, more is better. We both have that experience in our sordid past in the '80s.
Well, also the episode where we found out they were high school sweethearts, that clicked something for me: Okay, he's perfect, but it's been forever.
Wallem: Right, and we were trying to have fun also, that Eddie connects with her in an intellectual way.
Brixius: They have conversations about quantum physics.
Wallem: So it's kind of fun that - again, more is better.
First year of a show, there's a learning curve. Are there certain things that, looking back, you thought, 'This really worked, maybe this didn't, maybe more of this, less of that'?
Brixius: No. I think that the show taught us what it was as we were doing it. We had a few pre-conceived notions, like, for example, Zoey was going to be more of a traditional protege, O'Hara was going to be an icy blonde American clinician. When these actors came in, they nailed it in ways that we hadn't imagined, and then the way they inhabited the characters informed what Linda and I saw going forward. So, we don't ever go very far down the road in terms of something we think isn't going to work. We're just following our guts, and that tends to work out nicely.
Wallem: And we were blessed with Showtime's guidance on this. (Network president Robert) Greenblatt is amazing, we get great notes from him.
Brixius: He's guardrails, so we don't go off the road. He'll let us go a while, but he'll put up guardrails if he needs to. Every once in a while he'll go, 'My experience says that won't work, take it another direction.'
The one character who has come under a microscope is Akalitus. It seems like a lot of her stuff is tonally quite different from everything that's happening on the show. Is that something you've noticed? And are you comfortable with that?
Wallem: We are, and it's fun to us because Anna Deavere is an actress who usually plays characters that are so serious. I think you're going to find out more about her next season. Yeah, there were times we tended to get a little wacky with her, but gosh, we had a blast with her.
Brixius: And we like the wackiness, because what we're trying to do in a half an hour is convey the total absurdity of what an emergency room is like. You can't have Jackie play absurd, because Edie's not an absurd actress, ever. O'Hara has her own levels of absurdity, Zoey has her kind, but everything they deal with was very dire. So if you need comic relief, a really fun and surprising place to get it from would not necessarily be the hospital administrator, because that's a little on the Hot Lips (from "M*A*S*H") side, but if Anna Deavere Smith is playing that, it goes against any expectation you've ever had of her, and she's genius. So it's fun.
The actress you got to play the older daughter, Grace, is so good.
Wallem: Isn't she amazing? Ruby. She amazes us. To be able to grasp what's going on, that young. We are thrilled with her.
And she has me very worried, though. I watch her watching her mom sing "Up On the Roof" and I think, "Uh-oh."
Wallem: I know. And next season, we're dealing more with the anxiety. What do you do with a kid who has this anxiety disorder? We've gotten a lot of feedback from parents whose kids (have it), and they've been very thankful. We were bent on not doing your typical cute, well-scrubbed kids. We're really pleased with how they came out.
Thematically, what would you say the story of this season was, and what territory do you want to explore next year?
Brixius: Thematically, this let us introduce to you the chaos of an ER through this one woman's life. That was it. Opening up what that world is. Next year is...
Wallem: ...more of her life. It's what she has to do...
Brixius: ...to deal with the consequences of season one.