Monday, June 08, 2009

Nurse Jackie, "Pilot": Helloooooo, Nurse!

Spoilers for the series premiere of "Nurse Jackie" coming up just as soon as I flush an ear...
"I don't like chatty. I don't do chatty. I like quiet. Quiet and mean -- those are my people." -Jackie Peyton
As 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?


Paul Allor said...

I enjoyed this a great deal, but I thought at times it was a bit heavy-handed, and didn't trust the audience to figure things out on their own. So instead, they had the voice-over connect the dots for us.

The pinnacle of this, of course, was the end of the show. First Nurse Jackie quotes Saint Augustine in voice over ... then we see that she has a husband and kids she's stepping out on ... and then, she repeats the Saint Augustine quote, in case we're too stupid to have connected what we're seeing to what she just said 20 seconds ago.

Right now I see this as a really good show. If they cut out 80 percent of the voice-over and trust the audience to follow along, then I'll consider it a great show.

Myles said...

It's impossible to ignore the House and Mad Men comparisons (and as you note, they weren't reinventing the wheel), but in writing my own review I was shocked to see how far the Mad Men one can stretch, in particular.

I'm with you, Alan, on the 30 minutes feeling right: if the show were an hour long, it would feel like a dark and sardonic Grey's Anatomy with Nurses, and I don't think that is too its benefit. As long as it adapts to the half hour format, it's in good position to focus on the right things (characters, mainly) and use the rest as economically as possible.

matty said...

If it's the singer and not the song, then I think it's worth noting that this seems to be the only song anyone's singing anymore.

Mike F said...

Gosh, I just hated this episode and I really hope it gets better. As I said in the other thread, I expected to really enjoy this show but couldn't get past a few things...

1 -- All the non-Jackie characters either fail to make an impression or are so thinly written as to make them hard to take seriously. The young doctor on his cell phone barely examining a potentially critical patient and her rediculous nursing student stand out in my mind.

2 -- The painkiller addiction seemed greatly overplayed...none of the slow-mo sequences seemed earned.

3 -- The biggest problem I have is that she's so reckless with her actions. If this is a regular day for her or even represents what she does in a week, then there'd obviously be a huge pattern. If one particular nurse was caring for patients that regularly had their money stolen or their body parts go missing or their organ donor status be surprising, then it would draw somebody's attention.

4 -- The annoying, obvious camera work and scene transitions...please tell me that's going to vary episode by episode...low angles, white flashes, it was all a little too much and called attention to itself.

I'll give it 4-6 episodes to get more much as I love the lead actress, I hope she's not in every single scene in every single episode. I hope the show is not only about her.

I felt similarly about Dexter after I first watched it...he seemed like the only character in the show, including doing all the voice Jackie does here...and his workplace seemed somewhat frivolous for what it was supposed to be. But over time, I've grown to enjoy a few of the other characters. It sucked me in and continues to do so. Hopefully, Nurse Jackie has a lot more tricks up his sleeve and it gets more nuanced and unpredictable in the near future.

john said...

I enjoyed the premiere a lot and think the show has a lot of potential. It's a well balanced dramedy, perhaps the first 30-minute show of its kind that leans more towards drama. I'll give any post-Weeds show a try and I'm glad I checked this out.
Edie Falco is incredible as Jackie - as complicated and compelling as Nancy Botwin and Dexter Morgan. I'll give the show time to establish its own groove and flesh out the rest of the cast but I think it's a great fit for the network.
Loved the nursing student puking in the hall and later waxing poetic about pain

renton said...

The second episode is up on our Showtime on Demand channel and I warmed to the show more after the second one.

Wish I had the whole season to devour at once like some critics.

Tim said...

I liked it and I don't normally like hospital shows. It's genuinely funny, but the drama is too familiar. I feel like there are four or five hospital show plots that are used over and over.

I am not sure if I would watch again if not for Edie Falco.

Hyde said...

I think Paul Schulze was in Laws of Gravity with Edie Falco, which is the first thing I remember seeing her in. So yeah, they've been working together on and off forever.

I can't say I loved it, but it's summer so I'll surely give it another shot. The only part of the episode I actively disliked was the breast-grabbing and explanation given for it, which seemed very David E. Kelley-y.

Shawn Anderson said...

It was daring to open with the theme song to Valley of the Dolls (sung by Dionne Warwick,) but they more than delivered on it.

I'm five episodes in and am still amazed at how much they fit in the 25 minutes.

belinda said...

Funny someone should mention Dexter, but for completely different reasons - all those shots of the percocet 'sweetener' reminded me of Dexter's opening credits. But yes, I couldn't help but think of House and Mad Men too watching it, because the premise had such similarities. Which isn't a bad thing, and hey, at least this time, it'a a strong FEMALE role, and by an actress who can certainly carry it off.

I definitely like Edie Falco enough to keep watching, and it's an enjoyable half hour with some funny moments and a lot of potential, even if some things in the pilot seems a bit heavy handed at times ( I think the little music interlude bits does this the most).

Is this show meant to be paired up with United States of Tara? (because both are these half hour dramedy type)

Alan Sepinwall said...

The second episode is up on our Showtime on Demand channel and I warmed to the show more after the second one.

Just a reminder, btw: As we've done with other shows where the On Demand and air schedule are different, please limit the discussion to the episodes that have actually aired (and that I've blogged about).

The above comment is fine, but when "The Wire" was airing on a staggered schedule like this its last few seasons, the spoiler issue became problematic.

Eyeball Wit said...

Seems that Merritt Wever (Falco's chatty student nurse) is the Kevin Bacon of your summer.
She played the Donna/Natalie character as Danny's (?) overly capable assistant in Studio 60, thus fitting into your SportsNight recap.
And she had a short but memorable turn as Prissy (didn't know her name) in Season Two of The Wire, as Ziggy's ex-girlfriend, that Nicky meets on the playground after things go bad.
I really like her, and another reviewer in either the Times or the New Yorker suggested that this is the role that will make her a big star.

If not, maybe she can get a job as a real nurse...
This news report from the gala premiere of the series:

"Celebrity guests at a party for Edie Falco's new TV show Nurse Jackie got a medical scare of their own when an elderly female collapsed and was carried away on a stretcher...
Showtime executives had a space at the Parker Meridien hotel decorated with a hospital bed and an X-ray machine, leading some guests to believe the woman's fall was a stunt.
But actress Merritt Wever, who also plays a nurse on the show, quickly realised the incident was no performance and called paramedics to the scene."

Vivian said...


That's certainly more than 'a career for a few years in the late '90s.'

And have you seen Shelter? You know, the *winner* of Outstanding Film -
Limited Release at the 20th Annual GLAAD awards? Well, he was one of the stars.

dez said...

I liked it enough to give it a few more eps to kick in. Edie's great and I liked the lunch scene with Nurse Jackie helping the old lady while the doctor looked over her own nails.

Re: Brad Rowe: He kind of resembles Josh Duhamel in some of his photos, too. I barely remember anything he's done, though, and I've seen a lot of those shows/movies.

Loretta said...

Glad that you mentioned the Catholicism theme that runs throughout the episode (and I'm assuming the remainder of the series). That was one of the things that intrigued me about the episode (aside, of course, from Falco's performance).

Religious characters are rare on television nowadays. (Or, now that I think about it, maybe they always have been rare? It can obviously be a touchy subject.) Moreover, when they do appear, it tends to be in that godawful (haha, I made a pun...) preachy saccharine way like Seventh Heaven. Not being religious myself (though having been raised Catholic), this was something I always appreciated about Carmela on the Sopranos, and that I think I'll appreciate here--the idea of someone who recognizes that they're a sinner, but still has a desire to do better. Maybe Falco is drawn to roles with religious undertones?

Anyway, the show got my attention, made me chuckle a few times, and I'll keep tuning in.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "Nurse Jackie", it was pretty good, and I'll keep watching to see if I stay intrigued.

Regarding Brad Rowe, who does have an active acting career, he recently co-starred in the 2007/2008 independent movie, "Shelter", which won 11 awards this past year, including a tie in the GLAAD Media Awards, with a new film in production. Check the link for his current schedule. I'd much rather watch Brad Rowe than Brad Pitt any day.

erin said...

I was unmoved by much of it, but intrigued by Edie. I really liked the natural nurse assistant, and the gay nurse (who i had to look up to figure out was in The Visitor, a terrific movie) and the Brit doctor. The lunch scene was amusing. Good chemistry with Paul Schulze.

Really didn't like the music, or all the "Saint Jackie" references. I might wait for Alan's reviews before I watch more episodes. It aimed for quirky, and intentionally quirky shows really irritate me. But I agree with Alan that sometimes tv pilots paint broad strokes so they can fill in the lines later. I'm intrigued, but not overly so. I'll see how it plays out!

Unknown said...

I liked this first episode very much. The only thing that slightly bothered me was how much younger her husband looked than her. I guess that not really a problem though, is it, lol?

Dan Coyle said...

I twigged to the marriage reveal pretty early on- the way the shot is framed of Eddie and Jackie laying in bed together, it's hard not to notice they're both not wearing a wedding ring. They made sure we'd see that. So I figured, "Yeah, she's running around on her husband." They show the kids first to throw us off- oh, she's a single mom, I guess- but wait!

What's interesting, is that said husband seems to be a much younger guy. That's actually different.

I liked it overall, but my biggest issue was with the cinematography. I get that it's supposed to reflect what someone addicted to painkillers sees but hey, I didn't swallow a jug of Vicodin before the episode started.

My mother is a nurse, though she's been working at a high school instead of city hospitals for the better part of a decade- and Falco has a similar haircut to her on this show. That feels weird.

olucy said...

I liked the second ep as much as the first.

And Nurse Jackie has already been picked up for a second season. Woot!

NyteFlyer said...

Brad Rowe a dead ringer for Brad Pitt? Nahhhhh. Brad Rowe is ten times better looking.