Frankly, NURSE JACKIE shouldn’t work.
The new Showtime series is, on paper, little more than a collection of cliches. The drugged-out nurse who knows more than the uncaring doctors she works with. The gay best friend. The annoying chatterbox of a nursing student. The opening and closing voiceovers.
Despite — or perhaps, in some weird way, because of — this seemingly flawed foundation, NURSE JACKIE proves to be yet another feather in Showtime’s almost tackily-over-ornamented cap. Like THE TUDORS, DEXTER and WEEDS, this is another show built around a wildly dysfunctional central character, yet never fear, as she is completely original thanks in equal parts to brilliant writing and a “give-her-the-Emmy-now-and-stop-wasting-everyone’s-time” performance from Edie Falco.
Perhaps the cliches are meant to lure us into Jackie’s world, allow us to sit back and get comfortable… so that the show can then laugh at us for our complacency by turning everything upside down as if to say, “Ha! We fooled you!” By the premiere’s end, we learn that nothing is exactly as it seems in Jackie’s world. Her relationship with hospital pharmacist Eddie is far more complex than it appears on the surface, and the hotshot doctor has what can only be described as a most unusual way of dealing with stressful situations.
Viewers are likely to walk away conflicted about the lead character, who is — much like DEXTER’s morally conscious serial killer — a study in contrasts thanks to the battle that rages on between her self-righteous nature and the occasionally horrific acts she commits in order to make the world live up to her expectations, not to mention the glaringly obvious hypocrisy evident in her daily life.
To those who have been saying that comedy is dead on television, we point to JACKIE and say, “It’s not dead. It has simply come of age.” Like the best of modern comedies, this isn’t a simple set-up, punch-line type of humor, but something much more mature and complex. We don’t just let loose belly laughs or guffaws, but often find ourselves tittering with quiet discomfort. It pushes the boundaries of what can and can not be done within the 30-minute format, and credit must be given to whoever decided that this would work better in the shorter doses and resisted the urge to make the show an hour.
By the end of the first episode, you’ll be hooked… and thrilled by the network’s decision to pick it up for a second season. And if the major networks want to know what they’re doing wrong, they need look no further than this program, which might serve as a tutorial in how to make great television. Forget the reality that is flooding the major networks; this summer belongs to JACKIE.
NURSE JACKIE airs Monday nights at 10:30PM on Showtime. The pilot will be rebroadcast tonight at 11:30PM