A couple of new medical dramas are good for what ails you. Guy Davis enjoyed the bedside manner of Mercy and Nurse Jackie.
octors don’t heal, they diagnose,” Jackie Peyton, the smart, selfless and, yes, pill-popping nurse at the heart of the new Ten series Nurse Jackie said of the medical profession.
“ We heal,” she added, talking up the nurses who do the bulk of the caring on this edgy comedy-drama that gives Sopranos star Edie Falco a terrific star vehicle for her sharp, spiky charisma.
Nurse Jackie follows in the footsteps of shows such as Damages and Saving Grace by providing audiences with an intelligent adult drama and a talented actor with a showcase for her skills.
While the storylines may share similarities with almost every other medical show that’s been on the air since the invention of television ( namely, a mix of dedicated and self-impressed medicos wrestling with illness and trauma on “ the worst day of everyone’s life”), it mainly sets itself apart by the character of Jackie.
Given her penchant for popping painkillers ( to ease the pain of a back injury exacerbated by long working hours spent on her feet) and her quick way with a cutting one-liner (“ I don’t do chatty; quiet and mean, those are my people,” she says), comparison with Hugh Laurie’s Dr House would seem evident.
But Falco’s Jackie would actually seem to have more in common with the likes of Mad Men’s Don Draper – she’s hard to get a read on. She appears devoted to her husband and kids but she seems equally fond of the hospital pharmacist with whom she’s having a secret affair. But is the affair about romance or about the pills the pharmacist can provide?
And while it’s clear that she needs the painkillers to get by, Jackie appears almost as hooked on the thrill of getting away with her habit, none of which keeps her from caring deeply for the patients in her care.
To its credit, Nurse Jackie hasn’t gone overboard with any explanations so far, allowing its viewers to trust in Falco’s tough, unsentimental but likeable performance.
Nurse Jackie beat the new Seven medical drama Mercy to the punch by a few weeks, something that must frustrate its makers no end. Because at first glance, the two shows have more than a bit in common, starting with a medical establishment that places nurses at the bottom of the heap and ending with a central character who talks the talk, walks the walk and has an addiction and an extramarital affair among the skeletons in her closet.
Mercy has nurse Veronica Callahan ( newcomer Taylor Schilling) returning to her rounds at New Jersey’s Mercy Hospital after a four-year tour of duty in Iraq, where she seems to have gained the kind of knowledge and experience that puts the average fat-cat doctor in the shade.
Indeed, our introduction to Veronica has her saving a car-crash victim’s life with little more than a straw and a water bottle.
Of course, someone this capable and noble simply must have some baggage, and in this case it’s being torn between a nice-guy husband and a dashing doc ( the man with whom she had a war-zone affair).
Oh, and she also has two novice nurses and a case of post-traumatic stress disorder to deal with. All in a day’s work, right?
As with Nurse Jackie, the plots are your typical Medical Melodrama 101 with a touch of righteous indignation that nurses get little money and less respect. And it definitely makes no bones about where its sympathies lie: in response to a haughty patient wondering out loud what nurses are good for, Veronica gets off this zinger: “ Well, we do try to keep the doctors from killing you.”
Good medicine: Edie Falco ( left) and newcomer Taylor Schilling ( inset) are just what the doctor ordered.