Monday, June 8, 2009

Pilot Review: Nurse Jackie

Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Premieres June 8 at 10:30pm

There’s no denying that Edie Falco turned in one hell of an impressive performance as Carmela Soprano on HBO’s hit mobster dramedy. She took home three Emmys and even earned a standing ovation when collecting her third trophy for her incredible work in the fourth season finale, “Whitecaps.” It’s fair to assume that, once “The Sopranos” ended, she’d be a hot item and wouldn’t stay on the market for long. Enter “Nurse Jackie,” Showtime’s newest woman-led comedy series. The title describes the plot, and the only other information you need to know is that she’s determined and she pops pills.

“Nurse Jackie” is hardly the first show to be set in a hospital, and along the same lines, it’s hardly an original premise. What’s notable here is that the show really is about Jackie, and from the pilot, it doesn’t seem to have a wealth of important supporting players like “House” does, choosing instead to make everyone indistinguishably disgruntled, and even the other-gender doctor (played by Peter Facinelli) seems unlikely to have a major role, as opposed to, say, the generally even focus on Treat Williams and Kari Matchett on TNT’s short-lived “Heartland.” Facinelli’s part, for that matter, is laughable. He’s an overly cocky newcomer to the hospital who purports to express himself uncontrollably in a sexual, physical contact-filled matter. Jackie doesn’t seem to buy it; neither do I. The show doesn’t have much to go on besides Jackie herself, and Falco can only do so much.

Falco is certainly talented, and she does a good job of externalizing Jackie’s addiction and her frustration with things that are out of control. This is unexplored territory for Falco’s television roles, after playing very well put-together social elites on “The Sopranos” and in her recurring guest spot on “30 Rock” as a Democratic Senator. Still, it’s not clear that Falco has completely separated from her star-making role. The most glaring and bizarre casting choice is Paul Schulze, who played Father Phil on “The Sopranos,” as Jackie’s workplace romance and prescription dealer. Father Phil and Carmela shared a romantic connection, and throwing Schulze in right in the pilot feels like holding Falco back from recognizing her potential beyond her “Sopranos” legacy. This show is decent, but there’s not enough beyond “Edie Falco’s next role” to carry it forward for me.

How will it work as a series? She’s already popping pills, she’s already having an affair at work – what else can Jackie discover about herself? Presumably some of her co-workers will become more important, and perhaps she’ll be able to pass on her unique take on the world to someone. Otherwise, it should be a run-of-the-mill hospital dramedy, with little else to offer than a semi-sharp wit.
How long will it last? Last year, Showtime placed “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” after “Weeds” on Monday nights, and now there’s another female-led edgy dramedy. Showtime’s had success recently with almost all of its shows, except those less-promoted (“Huff,” “Meadowlands”), and I imagine that the power of Falco alone should garner it a second season renewal fairly quickly.

Update: "Nurse Jackie" did get renewed pretty quickly, in fact. It took a whole two days.

Pilot grade: C