Hawthorne: Season 1
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Hawthorne: Season 1

Some situations are just inherently conducive to generating dramatic tension. Right from the start television caught on to this by focusing on certain specific professions as the basis for one show after another. While this naturally leads to formulaic television there is enough to these chosen foundations for drama that works since the same handful of premises are constant reworked into another series to fill a timeslot. The two perennial favorites have always been crime and medicine. I can state with certainty that barely season goes by without a courtroom, police station, detective agency or hospital becoming the setting for a new dramatic show. When there were only three major networks the competition for the largest rating was incredibly cut throat leading to nearly clones of successful series. While some of this is still in effect the emergence of cable networks there is now ample room on the TV landscape for niche programming and shows attempting a novel twist on familiar TNT are a cable network that has distinguished itself in original dramatic programming. It tries harder than most networks at giving something novel to the audience but with such willingness to experiments comes some series that just cannot achieve the goals set for it. One series in this category is ‘Hawthorne’. The first swing and a miss is how the network presented the logo of the series; HawthoRNe’. Okay, we all get it. The series is about a registered nurse but please, loose the capitalization. One of my best friends is a nurse practitioner whose opinion I have the greatest respect for and she sees this series more fantasy than realistic drama. Having spent some considerable time in a medical environment myself I find I must concur. One thing is the fact that some of the things the doctors and nurses routinely get away with here are not only non professional but a few borders on the criminal. Just one example is a pretty nurse that offers a massage technique that should be a not so happy ending to her career. We’ll get to more examples shortly but let’s just state that this is a good idea that did not receive the proper execution.

The show was created by John Masius who has extensive experience in television series with a twist. Previously he was involved in scripting for ‘Dead like Me’, ‘Providence ‘and ‘Touched by an Angel’. He also wrote for a classic medical series, ‘St. Elsewhere ‘so this setting is nothing new to him. As far as the fundamental stories goes the writing is profession and on par with some of the more notable series of the genre. What distracts from the effectiveness here is common to many if not most medical series; reality is rarely perceived as sufficiently dramatic for television audiences. I suppose that the life and death decisions doctors and nurses face each day pales in comparison to the soap opera requirements that now are mandated in virtually every drama televised. No one I’ve ever known who worked in a hospital has ever encountered the romantic and outright overly libidinous behavior that is commonly depicted in series like this. You have more of a chance of finding love or engaging in sex in a strip club’s VIP room than a hospital storage room but you would never know it from TV shows set in a hospital. The behavior here is not as overt as most series of this type but romantic entanglements due overshadow the medical plot lines. The basic premise is strong enough. Christina Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett Smith) is the Chief Nursing Officer at Richmond Trinity Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. Just a year prior to the start of the series Christina lost her husband leaving her with the usual rebellious teenage daughter Camille (Hannah Hodson). One way she copes is to throw herself headlong into her work intensifying a predilection she has always held. Although Christina is management it appears she is rarely too busy to get down to the trenches and work diligently in hands on patient care. Okay, not as hands on as the aforementioned nurse, Candy (Christina Moore) but Christina has enough time on the floor to become involved in the personal lives of nearly every patient coming through the facility. It is little wonder Trinity Hospital is in deep financial trouble when management is too busy butting in to personal matters to actual manage the hospital. Nurse Hawthorne has an overworked nurse supervisor as a best friend Bobbie Jackson (Suleka Mathew) who is extremely forgiving to the drug addled woman who took out her frustration at losing her baby to children’s services by stealing Bobbie’s artificial leg. Rounding out the floor staff is a brand new nurse, Kelly Epson (Vanessa Lengies). She represents the new required character now that nursing has moved out of the back ground and into center stage. She is the recent nursing school graduate who is still idealistic and energetic. Unlike the other nurses that are worn to a frazzle Kelly is always bright eyed and bushy tale. Trying to keep this hospital on track is an arduous task falling to the head of the hospital, John Morrissey (James Morrison).

Most of the episodic stories are concerned with the emotional turmoil of the patients and how the staff is drawn into their melodrama. This ranges from a patient with a brain aneurysm who thinks Christina is his wife to Christina running around shuffling patients in order it secure a bed for a terminal patient. She winds up converting a closet into a room leaving us to believe that a closet can double for a medically advanced area such as those found in a modern intensive care room. This leaves more than enough time for Kelly to offer to teach Camille how to drive. It is simply amazing how much personal time is afforded to each patient. The writing is strong and well done as far as plot lines goes but the series can’t decide whether it wants to be a soap opera or a serious medical drama. This Schizophrenic approach to a series foundation prevents it from achieving its goals. In general the acting is very good an Ms Smith deports herself well as executive producer serving as a better, more focused manager than her onscreen character. I suppose that this preponderance of soap opera aspects is just how televised dramas work now.

Posted 07/22/2010

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