Monday, June 22, 2009

Nurse Jackie, "Chicken Soup": Eli's going

Spoilers for tonight's "Nurse Jackie" coming up just as soon as I marry my cat...

Eli Wallach is nearly 94 years old. Even though his acting career didn't really take off until he was in his 40s, he's worked with the likes of Clint Eastwood, Peter O'Toole, Audrey Hepburn and Steve McQueen. He's played Mexican banditos (check out this montage of some of his best moments as Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"), "Batman" villains (he was one of the Mr. Freezes) and a Corleone family advisor (albeit in "Godfather Part III"). He's in his 90s, still working, and either makes good things better or briefly elevates bad things (like his "Studio 60" cameo, or his appearance in "The Holiday.")

The point being, Eli Wallach represents many things that are awesome, and his presence in "Chicken Soup" -- working alongside both Edie Falco and the always-welcome Lynn Cohen -- helped elevate the episode above the usual medical show cliches about the wisdom of dying elderly patients.

There's been some discussion in the posts on the first two episodes about the tone of "Nurse Jackie" -- whether we're supposed to take this all at face value, as some kind of satire or as Jackie's perspective through the Vicodin haze. Having seen six episodes of the show, I'm not sure I have an answer yet, because I'm not sure the "Nurse Jackie" production team has quite decided what it to be. As Falco told me a while back, the original pilot script was quite a bit darker than what the show is now, and I imagine there are some growing pains, and a little creative tug-of-war with Showtime.

But it doesn't feel like the pieces are that mismatching (save maybe the stuff with Anna Deavere Smith, and even she got a few moments of humanity in this one before Cohen cursed at her in Yiddish), and I'm glad that we're getting more and more of a sense of the supporting cast with each episode.

Peter Facinelli, for instance, has turned out to be almost shockingly likable as the goofball Coop ("Captain, we are powerless against the overwhelming force of the Pyxis!"), and Merritt Wever and Eve Best are turning out to be a wonderful little comedy duo as Zoe and Dr. O'Hara.

But what I really want to discuss with "Chicken Soup" is a question I asked last week, and which this episode made me ask myself repeatedly: how much of Jackie's thing with Eddie ties in to his ability to provide her with Vicodin? We see that they click on some level, but we can also see how impatient she gets when he tries giving her a back rub instead of pill samples. Jackie's attempt to get Coop to speak out against the pill-dispensing robot -- complete with hilarious cut to her and Eddie having their routine noon quickie -- could be read as her trying to help out a friend, or her trying to maintain her drug supply, as she can't trade sex for pills with a machine. (Unless, of course, that machine is the PimpBot 5000.)

Keeping in mind, once again, that we're discussing the episodes via the air schedule (and, therefore, not going to talk about the fourth episode, which was available On Demand starting today), what did everybody else think?


Myles said...

I thought this was definitely the show's finest comic hour yet - the material between Best and Wever was particularly charming, and Coop's pixus sequence was the first sign that Facinelli is earning that "and" credit.

The one thing I wax poetic on in my own review, though, is that amongst the rest of the elevated material (Wallach assisting with the dying patient story), the midwest couple turning into a literal parallel of Jackie was way too on-the-nose. I agree that there's some intriguing subtlety in terms of Eddie and the pixus, but it seems like the show too often throws in patients or moments as if to remind us forcefully that even though she's very nice to patients she's really just a screwed up human being.

I'm still on board, certainly, but I think you're right about the writers not quite having their priorities in order (even though, as you say, the show is surprisingly together despite this).

christy said...

I love Zoe. Love.

I really liked when Jackie tells ADS to look again as a nurse and she comes back and says he's dying. It seems heavy-handed in retrospect, but the whole thing was delivered so matter-of-factly by both actors that it really worked for me in the moment.

Ada-Jean said...

I thought Jackie's reaction to Eddie's Pixus news was pretty much primarily about how hard they are to rort, and her concern for his welfare was clearly second.

While I'm sure Jackie likes Eddie, and feels close to him, it seems to me that the affair is an example of the kind of manipulative and ultimately destructive behaviour caused by addiction. It feels like as the show goes on, they will explore some of that more: that drug-fuelled confidence might lead to heroism, but that it also leads her to treat her nearest and dearest (including Eddie) pretty badly. It's an intriguing hint of complexity in a show that could easily be much simpler.

Toby O'B said...

With regards to the question about the true status of the Jackie/Eddie relationship, I've had the feeling for all three episodes now that Eddie knows exactly how he stands in Jackie's world. I'm less sure about whether he's okay with that or not.

Because Eli Wallach is up there in age, I wondered if there are times when he looks at the details of the character he's offered and when he sees that he's supposed to have a wife, does he ever ask if it would be possible to cast Anne Jackson in the part? All the best to them and everything, but they really don't have much time to lock down many more chances to act together in a medium that can preserve the moment.

At the same time, the woman who played his wife in this episode was wonderful! I love that Yiddish curse and plan on stealing it for my own use!

My only complaint was that there were a lot of cliches or well-worn lines of dialogue throughout the episode. Had it just been with Eli Wallach's character, I would have chalked it up to a man who lived a long life and knew the expected patter by heart. But it came up throughout with other characters as well.

SteveInHouston said...

Monday nights I go over to my dad's for dinner and a movie and Showtime comedies. Now, I don't know if I was unsettled by tonight's movie - No Country for Old Men - or what, but NJ felt a little off. I think the others who have posted so far that some of this was a little too on-the-nose.

Still, there were some excellent moments, and I continue to enjoy the show.

I particularly liked the look on Jackie's face as she sat down to get her "treatment" from Eddie - she seemed like a little kid at Baskin-Robbins as she looked over the bottles of meds. And getting the back-rub was probably like being forced to get plain vanilla when there was so much Gold Medal Ribbon and Mint Chocolate Chip and Rocky Road to be had.

I'm also intrigued to see how they play out her daughter's looming anxiety disorder. As a kid, I all too often wrestled with numb dread over nuclear war and killer bees and malevolent sharks, and that was only with 3 networks and 2 daily newspapers feeding me the stream of horror. (I'm dating myself, aren't I?)

With all the news outlets and all the screaming headlines about our impending doom - global warming and dying economy and terrorism and sinister politicians and deadly viruses and omnipresent sexual predators, etc. - I can't imagine being able to raise healthy, well-adjusted, confident kids in the current environment.

erin said...

I think the show is really starting to get into it's groove, and I'm kind of looking forward to new episodes. I love Eve Best, who's just deliciously heartless (and a good foil for the too-sweet nurse). And I think the main reason for Jackie's affair with Eddie (but not the only reason) is that he's her pill hookup. No pills, and I think Jackie's interest in him would drop precipitously. As complicated as that is, I can at least understand it a little better in conjunction with her relationship with her husband. I just couldn't buy she's equally in love with both of them. But I feel like the husband is going to start getting suspicious that something is going on at work if she keeps refusing him to let him drop by work. I'm sure some interesting developments are coming!

Castaway said...


If it makes you feel better, kids don't care about the economy and they don't watch the news when they're really young, so that helps. For a while anyway...

I like this show---it's good to see Edie Falco in something interesting again. Sometimes the tone is a little off, and it goes from profound to cliche a bit often, but I figure they're still trying to establish the characters and that the writing will improve in time.

LA said...

I loved the pairing of Eli Wallach and Magda (from Sex and the City). I still feel like the show is revving up, but the daughter's anxiety storyline is intriguing.

Boo Pyxis!

Myranda said...

I think one of the reasons problems with locating the show exist is because of the way the writers are approaching Jackie herself. Yes, the show’s beating us on the head with all of Jackie’s bad habits, but Jackie hasn’t seemed to bother too much with self-reflection and while we’ll judge anyway, the fact still remains that right now Jackie’s ethics are being called into question without any response being thrown at us. It’s quite nice really, even if it does cause some trouble with the supporting cast not getting screen time and the constant addiction/affair reminders. Personally, I’m okay with this for now. I want it to change in the future, of course, but it’s making me participate with the show in a very “Mad Men” sort of way (appropriate given the endings of their respective pilots), and I can appreciate it even if it is a tad heavy handed.

The love vs. drugs dilemma with Eddie is an interesting one, and I just have to wonder which would be more interesting. Which would morally compromise Jackie more? Being in love with two men, both of whom she exploits to get what she wants/needs? Or loving one and simply using another? I imagine it’s a little of both, and while I don’t doubt that the drugs are an essential motivation for Eddie and Jackie’s love affair, wouldn’t it just be more twisty and fun if she loved him too? Tormented guilt, anyone?

Mike F said...

Interesting comments, Alan. At its heart, a show really is about the stories it chooses to tell and the way in which it tells them. I guess I get spoiled by shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad which come out of the gate focused, sharp and well-defined.

Nurse Jackie seems like more of a work-in-progress, a show that's finding itself while trying to score points in a whole bunch of different categories. The chicken soup storyline was filled with very special ER moments while the Stethoscope storyline was like something out of an ABC Family show...

Another thing that I'm not sure about is if they're telling these stories only from Jackie's POV or not...that's what I initially the first two episodes, were there any non-Jackie scenes at all? In this episode, there were a with the old couple by themselves and two where the young nurse attempts to get her stethoscope back...

I'm giving the show a long leash and will stick with it the whole first year as they find their focus. Its certainly MUCH more coherant than John from Cincinnati and I stuck with that the whole season.

I think we're all rooting for it because of the lead actress and because we need all the good shows we can get these days (especially in the summer). Also, very much looking forward to Hung. We really need a next great HBO series, if there's one to come.

Unknown said...

My biggest question is whether Eddie knows about the husband and kids?

Obviously she's hiding her lover from her husband, but is she hiding her kids and husband from work?

Dr. O'Hara knows about it all, but does anyone else?

Anonymous said...

Jackie takes off her ring in the credits. Why would she do that if Eddie knew about the husband and kids?