Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pilot Review: Hawthorne

Hawthorne (TNT)
Premiered June 16 at 9pm

TNT’s newest drama is just the latest in a series of strong female-led shows on the network. “The Closer” features Kyra Sedgwick as a stubborn police captain leading an all-male team and “Saving Grace” stars Holly Hunter as a hardened Oklahoma cop who speaks to an angel on a regular basis. “Hawthorne” follows the same essential format. Jada Pinkett Smith takes the lead as a head nurse at a hospital. Similar to both Sedgwick and Hunter’s characters, Smith’s Christina Hawthorne won’t put up with anyone’s crap, and is more than willing to dish out enough of her own to bother other people in order to get what she wants done. Endless comparisons have been made to “Nurse Jackie,” and in terms of the leads, Christina is hardly as edgy as Edie Falco’s Jackie, and all of her problems and interactions with people are infinitely less interesting. Christina’s personal tragedy is the death of her husband one year before the show takes place, blamed on her by many a member of her family. She breaks rules, but only if it’s for the greater goal of helping people. She doesn’t do much for herself other than trying to help out her friends. The show is very typical hospital fare, and nothing really sets it apart from a generic medical drama. Smith gives her performance as much as she can, but she’s sort of a loose cannon character who isn’t quite as much of a loose cannon as she thinks she is. She tries to push her opinions onto the rest of the people who work with her, and they’re a fairly lame bunch. The hospital’s director of medicine is portrayed by Michael Vartan, who is just as big a waste of space as he was on “Alias,” and while he’s entirely sympathetic to Christina’s desires, he doesn’t seem like he’ll actually get much done. Anne Ramsay, who has popped up in impressive guest spots on “The L Word” and “Dexter,” is a rival doctor who detests Christina, but her character’s cockiness and lofty absence is starkly imbalanced by her lack of actual expertise, which becomes clear in the first episode. The staff of nurses is not terrific, including a nervous but entertaining male nurse played by David Julian Hirsh and a completely out-of-place Christina Moore (slutty, flirtatious mother of Naomi on “90210). Aisha Hinds (True Blood, Invasion) is the character that’s supposed to be fresh, the homeless woman who lives outside the hospital, but the actress just isn’t that dynamic. The weak link of “24,” D.B. Woodside (who played Wayne Palmer), is onboard as a suicidal friend of Christina and her husband’s. Even the fantastic Joanne Cassidy (Brenda’s mother on “Six Feet Under”) isn’t terribly fantastic as Christina’s bullying mother-in-law. None of the cast makes the show, and the show itself relies on this main character that just isn’t entirely compelling. A working title for the show was “Time Heals,” and perhaps that would have been a better moniker; the problem is it’s generally unexciting and doesn’t contain any elements that set it apart from your run-of-the-mill medical drama.

How will it work as a series? Eventually the mystery of what happened to Christina’s deceased husband will have to be solved, and that would be the only real thing keeping the show going besides those immature, uninteresting nurse-to-nurse relationships. That said, hospital shows can go on forever (“ER” just wrapped after fourteen seasons), and so this one just needs a new case every episode and it should be set for a while, though that doesn’t mean it will be interesting.
How long will it last? TNT’s ratings for all of its shows recently have been very strong, and this show should be no exception. This also happens to be one of the best cases of series pairings I’ve ever seen, doing one better than the former couple of “The Closer” and “Saving Grace.” Putting “Hawthorne” with “Saving Grace” is almost as stunningly smart as placing “Burn Notice” and “Royal Pains” together, and I think that should save the show enough to get it to a second season.

Pilot grade: C

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