Showtime hopes its new series, Nurse Jackie, will be the next big thing since Dexter, and it might just be, as Jackie Payton (Edie Falco) is as flesh-and-bone real as characters get. Shooting straight from the hip, Jackie is a cynical, cantankerous, expletive-spewing hospital nurse who lays it on thick and occasionally admits when she’s wrong. Struggling to stay afloat as she balances the death-a-minute hazards of working at a New York City hospital and a family life with a husband and two kids at home, she lets off steam by snorting crushed Percaset tablets or whatever prescription drug she can get her hands on from the on-staff pharmacist with whom she’s having an affair. Jackie will be the first one to admit she’s no angel, taking off her wedding ring each and every day as she enters the hospital doors.
One of the key flaws plaguing Nurse Jackie is its indistinct supporting cast. Jackie has a difficult time warming to the new doctor on staff, Dr. Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli), who accidentally grabs her breast after a patient’s death, claiming it was a symptom of Tourette syndrome. And several other characters orbiting Jackie’s world come off as one-note cartoons, never transcending their thinly formed roles: the gay nurses (a.k.a. gossip queens) and hospital administrator (the bureaucratic dimwit) are simply just there to provide comedic value. The series too often relies on oddly placed broad humor, which entirely deflates the weightier moments. The hospital administrator, played by a curmudgeonly Anna Deavere Smith, unknowingly drugs herself with one of Jackie’s packets of crushed pills and comedic hijinks soon follow.
Even in later episodes, the series still struggles to strike a consistent tone, switching between the more issues-based, authentic medical drama of shows like the BBC’s Bodies and the more flighty episodic comedy of Scrubs. Fortunately, Falco is spot on, subtly infusing her sharp-edged, morally ambiguous, and, at times, hard-to-like character with vulnerability and emotional depth, but Nurse Jackie might need a shock to the chest before it’s able to claim the next-hip-show mantle.