14 July 2009 | ConDeuce
Seems to be Getting Better as It Goes Along....
I thought Showtime's new series"Nurse Jackie" started off with good intentions and held promise but truth be known, I had little faith in it. It felt like a vehicle for its star, Edie Falco and though I respect her work, I couldn't understand how she could allow herself to get involved with a show that felt a little half baked.
Now a little over a month since its premiere, I'm warming up to a lot (but not all) of "Nurse Jackie" and it's not just because of Falco. The eccentricities are feeling less forced and more integrated. A lot of the actors are really coming into focus and are more appealing. I particularly like Merritt Wever's Zoey Barkow, a trainee nurse under Falco's seasoned Nurse Jackie. She's soft, likable and sincere without being cloying. She's cute in an unforced way. We root for her through our understanding of being in her shoes more than once (the newbie amongst the vets). Wever gets us on her side subtly without forcing any of her bits. She's a real charmer. Eve Best's Dr O'Hara is another winner. Like a lot of my initial reaction to "Nurse Jackie", I thought her character being British was just too much "odd-ballness" for one show that seemed to be trying too hard to be offbeat. But like Wever, she's showing shadings in her character without over doing it (i.e. the episode where she saved the twin brother. Her acceptance of the twin's artwork was priceless. She showed that she understood how clueless she was in how to handle the situation but handled it anyway.) And the dinner conversation between her and Zoey was inspired. Her reaction to Zoey's revelation about her father being in prison for manslaughter was priceless and made me laugh out loud. I'm not completely sold on Anna Deavere Smith's Gloria Akalitis but I think I'm getting there. The shrill, office administrator part can be a difficult one to play. It can become one note very quickly. I don't really like her pratfalls such as her being zapped by the taser. They seem beneath her and don't work. On the male side, "Nurse Jackie" has been even more of a mixed bag. Haaz Sleiman's 'Mo-Mo' is fine. He's a solid, believable presence. Anyone who has worked with a homosexual man knows that he's getting it right. Peter Facinelli's Dr. Fitch Cooper (or "Coop", as he's insisting people call him) is a good, live wire. Unlike Noah Wyle's Dr. John Carter on "ER", (who seemed to be falling asleep even as his stories became more and more super melodramatic) "Coop" is very much alive and seemingly off kilter. Like Dr. O'Hara, I didn't (and don't) like his supposed tourette syndrome habit of grabbing women when he was stressed as it felt (and feels) too forced. But as a character (and thanks to Facinelli's performance), he's more than one note. I'm not thrilled with the other two male characters in the show: Paul Schulze's Eddie Walzer and Jackie's husband, played by Dominic Fumusa. Schulze's Eddie is the hospital pharmacist who is "prescribing" Jackie the drugs (painkillers) that she's seen taking at regular intervals and is having a sexual relationship with. There's something about Jackie's drug habit and her affair that doesn't ring true in the show. Perhaps it looked good on paper, to give Jackie a very specific quirk. But as played, it's feels out of place. Eddie's role is underwritten: we're not sure what Jackie's real feelings are for him: drugs, sex, both? When none of them really seem to be that important to her, his role feels unnecessary. As for her husband, Kevin, Dominic Fumusa is too good looking to be believable. He's a romance novel authors idea of a husband rather than the reality that someone in Jackie's situation would likely be in. He's too much the stay at home father (though he owns a bar), painfully aware of his eldest daughter's anxieties and trying to make Jackie aware of it. I think the writers were trying for a gender role reversal here by having Jackie be the one who is cheating while Kevin is the doting, attentive caregiver but it's not really working. It's not Fumusa's fault (though he's bland) but more Falco's. Falco's Nurse Jackie may well have been envisioned as a depiction of a flawed but human women trying to balance so much in her life that she's resorted to drug use to get through her day. The show as well as the role, has the feel of being workshopped: the actors might have been able to work with the writers in developing all the elements of their respective characters. While that's fine, what one actor thinks might make for an interesting character to play doesn't always project that way to the audience. Nurse Jackie's no slouch. We're with her right from the start. She's strong, committed and human to us and it is immediately apparent. We don't need the additions of obvious flaws like the drug use and the affair to tell us that. All of this is thanks to Falco. With those expressive, yearning eyes, she's got the weary look of someone who's been through (and seen) a lot but still has the time and patience to care even if she's spent.
Watching "Nurse Jackie" is like watching a tight rope walker: I'm hoping for the best, that the show will make it across while at the same time, I won't be surprised if it falls apart because the whole show is trying something new and not conventional. For that, we should be thankful. I'm just hoping it does not turn out to be a one season wonder.