Non-Geek TV From The Geek Perspective: Nurse Jackie

Gabbing Geek What We're Watching

There’s a lot of TV out there, and some of it just doesn’t know when to quit.

Yeah, this time I speak of Nurse Jackie.

What’s the premise?

Jackie Peyton is a nurse in a Catholic hospital who’s addicted to all kinds of pills.  I mean, really, if there’s a pill out there, she’ll try it.  She’s an addict and a liar who will do what she needs to in order to keep scoring pills.  She’s also a darn good nurse and maybe a good mother depending on the episode.  The series divides itself between the hospital where she works and the homelife that kinda sucks.

What’s the appeal?

Well, that may be a good question.  Edie Falco returned to series TV with this after her run as Carmela Soprano on, you guessed it, The Sopranos.  Her Jackie is tough and seems to do whatever she wants to do.  She’s a very good nurse, it should be noted, but its hard to say she’s a good person.  In the era of anti-heroes, Jackie may be one of the few female ones.

That becomes clear as early as the pilot where we learn Jackie is having an affair with the hospital pharmacist to get a steady stream of painkillers and such.  The pharmacist doesn’t know she’s married, and her husband and kids don’t know about the pills or the pharmacist.

The hospital itself has other problems, like a young doctor who has a Tourette’s type disorder that forces him to grope people when stressed, cost-cutting from the tough hospital administrator, and patients who have all manner of problems.  The show isn’t really a drama, but it also isn’t really a comedy.  Many of the non-Jackie characters are quite funny, but Jackie herself is never treated that way.  Draw your own conclusions.

Anything stand out?

Actress Merritt Weaver is fantastic as a perennially optimistic and chipper nurse named Zoey.  She puts a lot of oomph into so-so material and can elevate a scene, acting as a nice contrast to sour Jackie.

Any downsides?

I have observed that many times the Showtime network, which airs Nurse Jackie, seems reluctant to cancel anything.  Dexter ran way too many seasons, for example, and fans had better hope the same thing doesn’t happen to shows like Homeland or Penny Dreadful if they haven’t already in the case of the former.  Though Jackie is currently in its final season, its hard for me to get really interested in it.  Like a lot of the shows I review for non-geek TV, this show is one my wife seems to enjoy.  I am not sure why.

The tone is a problem.  Jackie is never played for laughs, but Zoey and some of the others often are.  And the humor can come awfully broad, such as the character of “God” played by Steve Buscemi’s brother Michael.  God is a crazy man across the street who thinks he really is God and shouts condemnations at people passing by.  Or he’s sneaking around the hospital vents.  Or he’s stealing a piano.  God is not a subtle character.  That sentence has far too many meanings.

Perhaps the biggest problem here is that Jackie, especially in the first few seasons, often gets away with whatever she is doing all the time without a single complication.  Season cliffhangers may come along suggesting she is in real trouble, only for the season premier to come along and she easily lies her way out of the problem.  Her drug issues did eventually catch up to her at her job, and her daughter is also showing signs of addiction, but Jackie has casually popped pills without a single medical complication to be seen.  There never seems to be any stakes for Jackie.  Even when she is having big problems, they never seem that big because she seems to effortlessly weasel out of them, and not in the way that other anti-heroes on TV often do.  Walter White, Don, Draper, and Tony Soprano do often seem to have to sweat their way through bigger conflicts, and in the case of White and Draper, getting what they’re after isn’t always all that satisfying.  I never get that from Jackie.  How viewers can keep coming back to Jackie I don’t know.  If the show were more of a hospital comedy and didn’t have to focus so much on Jackie and her problems, I think it would work a lot better.

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