Nurse Jackie: Season 1
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Nurse Jackie: Season 1

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Almost immediately after television became the focal point in most American homes there has been programming set in hospitals. There is an inherent life and death drama mixed with virtually every conceivable human emotion that people can readily identify with. For many people life begins and ends in the hospital. It is a location found in most communities where people face the worse possible news. During the golden age of television hospitals were populated by handsome, dedicated doctors and intrepid nurses consoling the patients. In day time soap operas depicted hospitals as a place of constant sex and intrigue. One of the latest hospital series to hit the Showtime network is ‘Nurse Jackie’. In the spirit of full disclosure I first started watching this series after a prolonged stay in a hospital recovering from a stroke, when released I moved in with my best friends, home of whom is a nurse practitioner. Having a medical background myself we began to discuss ‘Nurse Jackie’ in light of our personal experience working in such sittings. The major plot points of this series include sex in the hospital and the flagrant abuse of controlled substances. My friend and I agreed that with decades of onsite experience neither of us have ever encountered anything remotely akin to such hedonistic behavior. Doctors and nurses are not having sex on any semi horizontal surface available and there are stringent local, state and federal regulations requiring every single dose of narcotics be accounted for. The thought that nurses like Jackie or someone like Doctor Gregory House downing handfuls of narcotics is absolutely ridiculous. That said you don’t watch a show like this for the stark realism. The series may fall very short in that department but it does work at least on the level of dramatic entertainment. The series boasts a stellar cast performing a tautly crafted script and that translates to an entertaining show.

The series has a certain experimental theater feel to it, sort of like some of the one I used to see in Greenwich Village back when I was a much younger man. The creators of the show, Liz Brixius, Linda Wallem, and Evan Dunsky, who have some experience in more traditional crime shows and sit-coms but and heading in a new professional direction here. The stories told here are not like any you might have seen on TV before. One thing is the naturally center on the nursing staff. The so called traditional medical shoe revolves around the doctors but the truth of the matter is it is the nurses are vital to the day to day functioning of a hospital. As one character here explains to a new nurse the doctors are there to address the illness but nurses are the primary advocate for the patient. The titular character Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) works in one of the most stressful departments in the hospital; the emergency room. Jackie has been at this job for as number of years and the constant pressure is getting to her. First of all she is a barely functioning drug addict whose substance of choice involves schedule II and III medications such as Vicodin and Adderall. It is not enough that she abuses them orally Jackie frequently grinds the pills up for the bigger rush from sorting them. In order to keep her supply of illicit drugs flowing Jackie is having asexual relationship with the hospital’s pharmacist Eddie Walzer (Paul Schulze). This also puts Jackie in the precarious position of cheating on her husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), father of her two children; Grace (Ruby Jerins) and Fiona (Daisy Tahan). At the hospital Jackie’s best friends are British transplant Dr. Eleanor O'Hara (Eve Best) and fellow nurse MoMo (Haaz Sleiman). When Jackie feels completely overwhelmed, which is quite often, she turns to them for advice or at least a shoulder to cry on. Her husband is loving; unaware of just what extracurricular activities his wife is up to. The one person that truly looks up to Jackie is nursing student Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever) who typically appears as a wide eyed doe trapped in oncoming headlights. From a story telling perspective Zoey was necessary to provide at least one cheerful character.

This is the major hurdle that the writers had to overcome; there is very little to admire about Jackie. Nursing associations have complained about the reckless disregard Jackie shows for every moral and ethical tenant his proud profession holds to. The other side to the coin here is the formidable challenge playing this kind of character offers to the actor. Falco is best known as the long suffering wife of a mob boss on the Sopranos. There she was the victim of infidelity instead of the instigator. It also addresses a serious problem in health care; substance abuse. Although the series begins with Jackie fairly successful juggling her addiction and sexual indiscretions but by the end of season one her professional and personal lives spiral out of control leaving her facing up to the ugly truth of her self-inflicted predicament. For Falco to play such an unlikeable character with such pathos is a testament to this woman’s amazing talent and mastery of her craft. The one slightly redeeming quality possessed by Jackie is she cares about her patients; albeit not enough though not to be high while treating them. There was some doubt as to whether the series would be picked up. In fact the final episode of the season could very well serve as a conclusion for the series. Showtime offers the first season in DVD and Blu-ray but as usual the high definition edition is mastered to near perfection. If you are a nurse you will find a lot to hate here but you have to give credit to production values.

Posted 03/01/2010

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