Monday, June 15, 2009

Nurse Jackie, "Sweet-N-All": Waiting for the God particle

Spoilers for the second episode of "Nurse Jackie" coming up just as soon as I get ready for a modeling shoot...
"Doctors don't heal. We heal." -Jackie
Series pilots, as a rule, tend to be flashier than the series on average will be. They're designed as a selling tool, and therefore are loaded down with the biggest, most memorable elements that might convince a network executive to pick up the show, or a casual TV viewer to set a DVR season pass.

Second episodes, when they're done right (as opposed to when they just have to repeat the pilot all over again for the benefit of viewers who didn't watch the previous week), tend to go a little deeper -- to show angles to the characters we couldn't see in the pilot, to reveal the mundane reality behind some of the pilot's more shocking moments, etc.

"Sweet-N-All" is very much in that tradition. After giving us a whole lot of Jackie as vigilante nurse in the pilot, and surprising some (but not all) of the audience with the last-second reveal that Jackie is married with kids (and, therefore, that her relationship with Eddie the pharmacist is adultery), "Sweet-N-All" dials things back a bit, while offering more insight into Jackie and the people around her.

Where the comparable second episode of "Mad Men" showed us the reasons why Don Draper might be stepping out on his trophy wife, this one offers no obvious explanation for why Jackie needs to cheat on her husband Kevin -- at least, no obvious fault of Kevin's. He makes pancakes for dinner, is an enthusiastic and uncomplaining primary caretaker parent, and the sex scene in the Peyton family kitchen (on top of either Fruity Pebbles or Cap'N Crunch) suggests that the couple has a relatively active and healthy sex life (as active as any couple with two relatively small kids can have, at any rate).

But that lack of obvious character flaw on Kevin's part so far tells us more about Jackie, and allows us to ask more questions. Is she restless? Weak? She and Eddie get along well enough, as we see in the discussion of the "God particle," but would she even be sleeping with him if she didn't so badly need a painkiller supply?

Beyond Jackie, "Sweet-N-All" goes deeper into the rest of the cast(*). We discover that Coop isn't a 100% incompetent doctor -- and that this, in turn, threatens the worldview of Jackie's lunch buddy, Dr. O'Hara. (I love her description of Coop as "nothing but a big girl's blouse.") Zoey continues to be funny, but also seem human, as she understandably freaks out after Jackie gets slapped by a patient, and again after Jackie tries to pass the buck to her for the ear Jackie flushed in the pilot.

(*) Most of them, anyway. Anna Deavere Smith is again stuck with a goofy subplot, as Mrs. Akalitus accidentally takes one of Jackie's secret painkiller packets. It's also one of the few times in the episodes I've seen where I noticed them employing the obnoxious "Grey's Anatomy"-style Please Laugh Now music.

And speaking of the unflushed ear, while the second episode doesn't feature Jackie doing anything quite as extreme as that, or illegally turning a dead patient into an organ donor, we do still see her going beyond the line of duty (or simply crossing a line) a few times, as she tells off the skater kid's mom for putting his modeling career over his safety, and as she helps out the cab driver after his heart attack. What makes those moments work, where on other shows (like, again, "Hawthorne," which I'll be panning in tomorrow's column) the nurse just seems insufferably self-righteous, is the matter-of-fact nature of Edie Falco's performance in those moments. She sees the cabbie arresting and very calmly asks burnt-face Eileen to wheel herself back into the hospital to get help, then barely blinks before she offers the guy her very last painkiller packet. This isn't a big dramatic moment; this is just Jackie doing what she does -- which, more often than not, lives up to what she tells Zoey about how nurses are healers.

Some other thoughts:

• Unless they added it to the pilot after the version I saw, this is the first episode with the opening credits sequence. As with most Showtime and HBO series, it looks amazing, but I'm not at all a fan of the music that goes with it. It sounds too brassy, like an outtake from the scoring sessions for the "Boston Legal" theme, and it doesn't seem to match the visuals.

• Somebody reminded me that Dominic Fumusa, who plays Kevin, is another "Sopranos" alum, albeit far more obscure than Falco or Paul Schulze. He played Christopher's cousin, Greg Moltisanti, who introduced Chris to the Alicia Witt character (aka Greg's fiancee) in season one's "D-Girl." IMDb (which is admittedly always iffy about ages) has Fumusa as six years younger than Falco, but the age gap looks wider than that. Either way, I have to assume they cast a more boyish-looking actor as Jackie's husband for a reason.

• Not surprisingly, Mo-Mo isn't the only gay nurse at All Saints, as we're introduced to the imposing but very effeminate Thor, played by Stephen Wallem, who's related (the Showtime publicist thinks they're siblings) to "Nurse Jackie" co-creator/showrunner Linda Wallem.

Keeping in mind, once again, that we're limiting our discussion to only the episodes that have aired (as opposed to what's available On Demand a week in advance), what did everybody else think?


Myles said...

You've pretty much hit everything that I had to say, plus things I forgot to put into my own review.

I actually think the credits sequences misses both visually and musically - the visuals are too on the nose (drugs! god! wedding ring!), and you're quite right that the music seems a particularly poor fit.

As for the episode itself, I think you're giving it a bit too much credit for building the supporting characters (it was mostly holdover from the pilot), but I agree that there's something very compelling about the decision not to offer any explanation why Jackie would be having an affair, turning it into a mystery of sorts. The idyllic nature of her home life just served to reinforce the character's immorality, but somehow Falco continues to make this a character that I feel an audience can relate to.

Intensely curious to see where it goes from here.

Anonymous said...

I think Jackie's situation is probably similar to Ally Sheedy's in The Breakfast Club: "My home life is unsatisfying." Her life is perfectly normal and she should be happy with it, but she obviously thrives on the drama and in making herself a bit of an outcast or renegade.

I don't love the title sequence either, but the one thing that amuses me is all the pills they show. The show has gotten a lot of comparisons to House and that show wanted to show a bottle of vicodin in the credits, but Fox made them remove it (which is why Jennifer Morrison's name appears over a completely random imagine of a river.)

The one character I'm not sold on is Eve Best's. She seems more like a character on a tv show than a real person. And I don't really see her being friends with Jackie or fitting into Jackie's world at all. Hopefully that will change in future episodes. In general, though, I think this episode was better than the pilot and the next episode (which I've seen, but won't say anything specific about) is better than the second. So at least it seems like the show is heading in the right direction.

SteveInHouston said...

The tone of the show reminds me so much of the early parts of Weeds - funny, quirky, serious yet kind of absurd all at the same time.

Which is nice, given how soggy and depressing and mundane the former has gotten.

Oaktown Girl said...

Oh man, I was so confused. I was expecting to see episode 3 of "Jackie" tonight. I didn't realize the second episode I saw via On Demand was jumping the gun. Now it feels like I have to wait an extra week.

And now for something completely different: The final scene in the pilot, when Kevin smiles and says, "How great is that?", he totally reminded me of another actor. It was driving me crazy because I could not figure out who. Then tonight when I saw it again, it hit me: he delivered that line - style, smile, voice, everything - exactly like Dean Winters, particularly in his 30 Rock character as Lemon's n'er do well ex-boyfriend. Anyone else with me on that?

Anonymous said...

For the record, "big girl's blouse" is a perfectly valid English slang expression, but it wouldn't normally be used by someone who talks like Dr O'Hara, and it just means a weak or effeminate man, something like "wimp" or "wuss". While "Coop" has his faults...

Zando said...

I like some of the characters, and Falco is obviously a great actress, but the show isn't that interesting to me as a whole.

Weeds also this season seems to be continuing the downward trend. Moving to a new town and losing half the cast for season 4 was a huge mistake. I also don't quite get when exactly Nancy Botwin went from people a suburban mother who decided to sell weed (let's be honest, it's harmless) to being somebody who doesn't mind dating the head of a Mexian mafia (a guy who is obviously into a lot darker crime than selling pot).

Anonymous said...

You make a great point about the role of the pilot episode and then the following ones, but to me there is the danger of the show not finding its tone. And that Falco is great but can't save when every five minutes she is some super-nurse. Anyone who has been to a hospital in serious cases, knows these nurses don't come out and spend lots of talk-time with you, grieving or not. So all this up-close-and-person stuff reminds me of how tv imagines hospitals (with such cavernous halls) rather than the reality... how difficult it is to get some empathy in the alloted 2 minute visits the nurse or doctor can manage. So of course, she can say all kinds of speeches...she has the time for it. Whether that is interesting...

Mike F said...

I was pretty harsh on this show after seeing the pilot. But this episode I enjoyed a lot more than the first.

At this point, I'm not sure whether to take this show as fantastical, satire or as a straight drama. As a half-hour comedy with some very stereotypical characters, I'm beginning to understand that it makes sense as a satire or on a wish fulfillment level.

Maybe this is how Jackie sees everybody around her in her painkiller the ideal husband that she betrays, her ridiculously ritzy friend compared to her, her bubbly and innocenet student, and so on and so on.

I'm thinking these may be stylized realities of Jackie's own mind. Or perhaps just a highly stylized series itself that doesn't need to play by the rules of law and order and hospital procedures with more realistic-behaving characters.

erin said...

I found the pilot frustrating, but enjoyed ep 2 more. I'm still annoyed by the Jackie-can-do-everything theme (what with the cabbie having the heart attack)...I doubt this happens to regular nurses, that they just happen upon people who are choking/heart attacking/passing out, etc. outside the hospital. But whatever. Falco is interesting, and I like the no-nonsense way about her.

I AM frustrated that her home life looks so tranquil (so why would she cheat?), but I'm curious where they're going with that. I like the inference that her doing something seemingly so inexplicable takes the Jackie-as-saint story down a peg.

I like the supporting actors and their interactions with Jackie, including the hot guy from The Visitor and the nursing assistant. She's so cute and believable!

Also really didn't like the opening credits or the musical choices. Regardless of how you feel about a show like True Blood, the opening credits, song choices, and score fit with seamlessly with the show. I don't get that vibe at all from Nurse Jackie and find all the music to be distracting.

FYI, if anyone was curious, the husband is from the Sex and the City episode where Miranda dates an ex of Carrie's, who tells her he was asshole when they dated years before, and voila! When Miranda and Carrie grab drinks with him--he's an asshole! But he's still very cute, and hopefully not the same type of character!

Oaktown Girl said...

I AM frustrated that her home life looks so tranquil (so why would she cheat?), but I'm curious where they're going with that.

I think there's a big gender factor involved. If the genders were reversed, and a man with a seemingly "tranquil" home life were cheating, most of us would simply write if off as, "Well, that's what men do". But since Jackie's a woman, it's much more scandalous because women aren't "supposed" to do that sort of thing. Remember how nuts the media and some political groups got with the movie "Unfaithful" when Diane Lane was cheating on Richard Gear with the young hottie French dude, and she didn't even have the "excuse" of a bad marriage to justify it?

Mike F said...

I thought she was cheating in order to get the pain meds...he's her "patsy" for drugs

Craig Ranapia said...

I like some of the characters, and Falco is obviously a great actress, but the show isn't that interesting to me as a whole.

Good, it's not just me -- there's been quite a few shows recently that strike me as "star vehicles" in the worse sense of the word. Take away Tim Roth, Nathan Fillion and Toni Colette and would their respective current shows have any features of interest at all?

Craig Ranapia said...

I thought she was cheating in order to get the pain meds...he's her "patsy" for drugs

To build on Oakland Girl's post, I wonder how many viewers would feel... shall we say, somewhat icky if we had a very special episode of 'House" where our hero was banging a pharmacist, and its very strong implied he's just in it for the drugs?

LA said...

I liked this episode much, much better. While I'm still not sure what this show's about, I'm now interested to stick with it to find out. Can't say the same for Royal Pains.

Unknown said...

The flip-flopping idea of "should we root for Jackie or against her" is constantly and unapologetically rammed down our throats. I found the whole thing more tedious than entertaining. (Especially the hospital admin taking the Percocet and stumbling around like a drunk teenage cliche) I go one more episode and pull the plug on this show.

Bobman said...

Just got around to watching this, and came here thinking I'd be the first to comment on the credits sequence, only to found you all beat me to it, both in bringing up the topic and in panning it :) Well, I guess I have nothing to add then, except I REALLY enjoy this show.

Oh, one thing to add - I read a news article that some nurses union or something was all bent out of shape about this show, in that it doesn't accurately depict nurses. Really? All nurses aren't cheating drug addicts? MAN, and here I went and made that assumption.

Tom said...

Wow -- what great comments. All are pretty much dead-on. I like this show, don't love it yet, and fear it'll go downhill. But for now, I'm sticking with it.

One bellwether to watch:

Either way, I have to assume they cast a more boyish-looking actor as Jackie's husband for a reason.

If this were HBO, you would have to assume that, right? But this is Showtime, were even King Henry VIII looks like a gym-rat obsessed with nutrition. IF the age difference is revealed to be character-based and plays a part in the story, then I'll be relieved and intrigued. My fear is that it's casting in an attempt to pander to all of the aging Zoey's which Showtime assumes are watching.

KrisMrsBBradley said...

After watching both the first two episodes, I see such huge flaws.

I thought the whole hospital admin who got dosed with Jackie's Sweet-n-All was just stupid. This is a grown, professional woman. Do you not think that she'd realized that she had been drugged and seek some sort of help?

And the fact that Jackie is so uncaring about others getting her drugs - without knowing what kind of meds they might be on, etc. isn't all that "super caring nurse" that they try to portray her as.

And how on earth is she really playing "single" at the hospital? Has her husband really never stopped in? Has there never been an office Xmas party that you'd bring a spouse to? Does he never call her at work because one of the kids got sick and he needed her to bring some cough syrup home? Have the kids never called to say goodnight when she works an overnight?

It seems like she's been at this job for years. Forget hiding a husband. How do you hide 2 kids?

Mike F said...

I agree with a lot of what you say, but I'm not sure she's actually hid her family from the hospital...I think she just has to take off her ring because of the type of work that she does...

I think your other points sort of tie in with mine...that those of us who were expecting a real drama were expecting wrong...we'll have to see what this is, but it seems to me to be more of a satire/farcical show and thus, doesn't have to be at all realistic. I think that has to be the show's point of view...although if that is the case, then I think we need sharper comedy and bigger payoffs.

KrisMrsBBradley said...

Hmm, interesting idea, that the ring comes on and off just for work. I just assumed that she was doing it to hide the family from work. Especially when she seemed to be sneaking it back on when she got home in the first episode (at least it looked sneaky to me).

If it were for work, wouldn't she just leave it at home, where it would be safe instead of sticking it in her pocket? Or wear it on a chain around her neck?

My mom-in-law is a nurse and she is allowed to wear her ring.

Lol, I guess time will tell whether it is work related or not!

Hillary said...

It seems like she's been at this job for years. Forget hiding a husband. How do you hide 2 kids?

And with that skinny little body, how do you hide two pregnancies? I guess we assume she started there after the little one was born, so maybe 5-6 years ago?

I do think it's much easier these days to hide your personal life from your work colleagues - there is no reason for her husband, kids, or kids' school to have to call the nurses' station or the switchboard, or anyone else in the age of cell phones.