Hawthorne: Season 2
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Hawthorne: Season 2

Anyone who has been alive a few decades and has spent a portion of that span watching television can readily attest to the simple fact that hardly a single season goes by without at least one medical drama. From the early days following the dogged determination of Doctor Kildare or the angst filled manner of Dr. Ben Casey audiences have been tuning in week after week, year after year to get their latest dose of hospital intrigue. Several soap operas that have gone on for several decades were centered on hospitals as well as prime time series like ‘E.R.’. The reason for the twofold measure of success of this type of drama; series longevity and genre endurance, is relatively simple, the hospital is absolutely the perfect setting for emotionally intense drama. Life and death situations play out 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a place where as one life tragically ends a few floors away a new one is welcomed into the world. Most of us will never experience other dramatic situations like a battle field half a globe away or crime syndicates with their inherent violence but a hospital is a place that most members of the audience readily knows and can identify with on some degree of a personal nature. This level of audience identification permits the medical drama to strike a special chord with the audience which when combined with the ‘Thank God I don’t have that’ provides a powerful inducement to keep watching. Typically these shows revolve around the exploits of doctors; either ruggedly handsome or wise or grandfatherly. As anyone who has worked or studied in a hospital will tell you if you want to get something done go to the people who quite literally keep the hospital functioning; the nurses. In the majority of medical shows nurses are relegated to one of three tropes; worker bees under the direction of the supreme doctors, sex objects for sex in the storage room or props to bounce medical jargon off. Finally the nurses are getting recognition on television although ‘Nurse Jackie’ would definitely get fired and most probably serve considerable jail time for her antics. A better look at the inordinate professional a personal pressure a nurse faces can be found in the TNT series, ‘Hawthorne’ occasionally spelt ‘HawthoRNe’ to remind the audience the series is about a nurse, just in case the white uniform is too ambiguous for you.

This series is a staring vehicle for the wife and mother of a Hollywood family that is making a sizable impact on the entertainment industry, Jada Pinkett Smith. This is not what is typically referred to as a ‘vanity project’ mostly because of the immense amount of talent packed into her powerful five foot frame. What binds this series together is the sheer intensity of her performance. Rarely do you see such an intense portrayal on a basic cable series as is routinely demonstrated in every episode of this show. Ms Smith provides an unusually textured portrayal of her character, Christina Hawthorne. TNT certainly rose to the occasion here. I was not overly impressed with the first season but the second one holds a lot of promise and is beginning to find its footing. The series still depends heavily on behavior and practices that are unheard of in an actual hospital, a real deal breaker for nurses I know. The thing is the intensity of the acting in concert with the emotional foundation of the stories manages to allow a good deal of latitude when it comes to procedural gaffs. The focus of the series is character driven by the many hats any of us have to wear. Christina is a mother of a teen age daughter, Camille (Hannah Hodson). This places a familiar dynamic of teen exploration in direct conflict with parental concern. Christina is also a fairly recent widow learning to cope with being a single parent and sharing her grief with a powerful mother-in-law, Amanda Hawthorne (Joanna Cassidy). Part of this is trying to get back into a personal relationship with the handsome Dr. Tom Wakefield (Michael Vartan). With all this emotional turmoil in her personal life work is no different Christina is a senior member of the nursing department. Her previous hospital closed but she managed to find a place for herself and a few key cast members. This season she is Director of Nursing at James Rivers Hospital. The woman currently holding the title, Gail Strummer (Vanessa Bell Calloway) refuses to step down and the administration winds up splitting the duties. This is one of the cases of unrealistic situations I spoke of but I can see why it was done. It places Christina in direct contention with a peer who is equally stubborn heightening the intrinsic tension of the stories. The new hospital is overworked, underfunded and drowning in needy patients. The treat of closing the hospital looms overhead heaping the tension.

Another unbelievable is the ‘battle field promotion’ of doe-eyed nurse Kelly (Vanessa Lengies) into a supervisor over a pair of insubordinate, slacker nurses. I suppose such a decision could possibly be with the scope of the Nursing director by a senior nurse would have gotten the job while action would be taken on the lazy pair, in any case a union representative would have to be called. The saving grace here is I got so into the drama and the progression of the character development. Ultimately the series works better this season because it no longer tries to hide behind the façade of a medical procedural show and embracing its true nature of a character driven drama.

Posted 06/07/11

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