Sunday, March 27, 2011

Heal thyself: Reviewing the new season of Showtime's "Nurse Jackie"

I should probably be harder on Showtime's "Nurse Jackie." I should probably chastise it for its flaws, including characters who are constantly shifting personalities (is Anna Deavere Smith's Gloria Akalitus a pompous buffoon or a capable administrator? Is Paul Schulze's Eddie a decent guy or a borderline psycho?). I should probably argue that it's frustrating that we're at the third season -- debuting Monday at 10 p.m. -- and the title character, played by Emmy winner Edie Falco, has evolved so little. Yet, it's hard to bring myself to criticize the show.
That's because "Nurse Jackie," for all its flaws, is just terrifically entertaining. At some point, that might not be enough but, right now, it is.

The new season begins where the last one left off, with drug-addicted Jackie reeling from an intervention given by her husband, Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and best friend, Dr. O'Hara (Eve Best). Yet, with Jackie being Jackie, it's clear she'll quickly find a way to bounce back from the situation.
More interesting than her battle with her personal demons are the storylines involving Jackie's job as a nurse at All Saints Hospital. The show's strength remains the interaction between Jackie and the hospital characters. Yes, I have my issues with Dr. Akalitus and Eddie, Jackie's ex-lover. But I'm totally still in love with Merritt Wever's hilarious and adorably goofy young nurse, Zoe. Zoe, unlike Jackie, has grown over the series's short life. She's become more skilled as a nurse and is developing a serious relationship with the EMT Lenny. Add in Wever's superb comic timing (seriously -- where is this woman's Emmy nomination?), and you have one of the most endearing characters on television.
Best is also quite appealing as the seemingly stoic Dr. O'Hara, whose icy veneer masks a wealth of vulnerability. She gets some decent material in the first few episodes, as she tries to process the feeling that she's been betrayed by Jackie.
And Falco remains outstanding as Jackie. Still, I get frustrated watching the character go through her constant pattern of "hide drugs, tell lies, lather, rinse, repeat." But, I guess that characterization is fairly realistic. As a character says this season, no one can recover before hitting rock bottom, and, depending on how long this show plans to run, you can't have Jackie fall too far, too fast. Yet there needs to be some drama for the show to remain compelling. Jackie can't keep pulling herself out of her problems with her wit and brains. Having Kevin and O'Hara confront her about her destructive behavior was promising, but, in the six episodes I've watched so far, there haven't been lasting repercussions. Maybe Jackie will experience some real, permanent obstacles as the season goes forward, though I'm doubtful.
However, I do like the show enough to stick with it despite some of the problems I have with it. The performances are good; the hospital feels like a real, vibrant workplace; and, of course, the show is funny. I feel a little selfish for wanting more. But, like Jackie, I just can't help myself.

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