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This Show Needs an Injection of Something Better, Stat!

By Seth Freilich | TV | June 8, 2009 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | June 8, 2009 |

I know, right, just what we need — another show based in a hospital with some wacky and/or slightly demented characters. On one of the regular networks, I’d have had no interest in this show, even with Edie Falco starring as the titular Nurse Jackie. But it’s not on a network, it’s on Showtime. And like HBO and FX before it, I’m willing to give a look-see to new show the pay channel puts out. So I tried to set aside my general animosity at the fact that we’re getting yet another set-in-the-medical-world show, at look at “Nurse Jackie” with as much a pair of untainted eyes as I could.

And, well … meh. I know that word is an overused meme at this point, but there are times when it just fits the bill, and this is one of those times. “Nurse Jackie” is not bad. Nor is it good. It’s a show that you probably would leave on if you flipped across the channels and landed on it, but you’re not going to leave dinner early to rush home and catch it because your DVR’s busted at the moment and you simply can’t afford to miss this week’s episode. It’s just meh.

See, there’s really nothing new or different about “Nurse Jackie” other than the fact that Falco’s Jackie isn’t the type of character we’ve seen women play too many times. We’ve seen men play this character a-plenty — the morally corrupt, philandering, substance abuser who still has an ethical core deep within and generally tries to do the right (and sometimes morally superior) thing, when the bad demons can be ignored and/or silenced. Jackie doesn’t drink anymore, you see, but she’s a big time pill-popper. On the job, she does whatever she decides is right, rules and laws and doctors’ oaths be damned — I don’t think the Hippocratic Oath includes flushing a patient’s ear down the drain, no matter how good or bad they may be as a person, and forging organ donation paperwork is What Not To Do 101.

The one refreshing thing about the show, at least from viewing the pilot, is that it and Falco’s character are unapologetic about representing her in this typically male archetype. We rarely get female characters like this on TV, and it’s nice to see that the show is apparently going to give us this character without trying to make her overly soft or cute around the edges. Falco’s haircut is the perfect example of what I think and hope the show is going for — totally practical for a nurse to have short hair and well within this character’s design, with no attempt to beautify Jackie simply for the sake of beautifying her. Whereas, on a melodramatic medical-emergency-of-the-week show, the lead would have long, flowing locks regardless of her actual character, because she’s the lead actress and I’m the head of this network damn it and I say that our lead actress needs some of that long, flowing hair because that’s what people want to see is chicks with hot, cool hair, especially in this time when the economy is in the tank and the people are turning to us to bring them out of their funk and to forget their troubles for a little bit, long hair damn it!

However, Falco is (surprisingly) a little lackluster in the role. I only watched the first episode once, and was planning to actually get back to a second viewing in order to focus on her performance and figure out what didn’t work for me, but I ran short of time. So I can’t put my finger on what it is, exactly, that wasn’t working. I know it’s not a lack of acting chops, and I know she can pull off the comedic elements as she was great on “30 Rock.” But there’s just something that didn’t work for me here.

The best I can figure is that the show, itself, is a bit off and struggling to figure out what it wants to be and do, and she’s catching some of it. I mean, big picture, I think the show wants to be a black comedy, with a touch of dramedy. But when it goes dramatic, it feels a bit to on “ER”-ish melodrama side of things, and the comedy side just isn’t that funny. I laughed out loud once during the half-hour, had a “that’s amusing” thought at one other moment, and groaned twice. In fact, I think this promo clip, with Falco and Peter Facinelli’s asshole Dr. Cooper, manages to rather concisely show both the melodrama and lack of good comedy:

Right? Totally meh.

That being said, I get that shows have their growing pains, and it can take a little while for something to truly get its legs. Hell, Showtime’s last half-hourer, “United States of Tara,” took half of its first season to start to come into its own. And there’s enough here that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. But “Nurse Jackie” is going to have to settle down, define itself and find a groove if I’m going to stick with it for the full season.

Now a show about Nurse Mophead — that I’d watch, no questions asked, until the end of days!

“Nurse Jackie” premieres on Showtime on June 8 at 10:30 p.m. Eastern, following the premiere of the new season of “Weeds.”

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Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.