For years, HBO was the preeminent leader of high-quality television. No other station, and especially no other premium station, consistently produced expertly done and engaging shows the way they did. Think Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Big Love, Entourage and Carnivale. These are some of the best shows ever made, and are considered as such.
But every great empire must fall at some point. Enter Showtime.
If HBO’s rival hasn’t taken the lead yet, it’s trending that way, as the station has several highly regarded series currently on the air. Weeds, Californication, The Tudors and Dexter have proven to be hits (Dexter is one of my favorite shows). One of their newest series – Nurse Jackie – arrives on DVD this Tuesday, allowing people who don’t have Showtime (like me) to see it for the first time.
Nurse Jackie stars Edie Falco (from HBO’s The Sopranos) as a no-nonsense but caring nurse who has a couple of daughters and a loving husband. She also is addicted to drugs and having an affair with her hospital’s pharmacist. Falco is supported by a strong cast, ranging from eccentric surgeon friend (Eve Best) to a rookie nurse (Merritt Wever) and a doctor who grabs body parts when he gets stressed (Peter Facinelli).
The show is a series of half-hour episodes of comedic drama, with grounded stories but colorful, exaggerated characters. As has become standard with premium channel shows, Nurse Jackie balances drama and comedy extremely well. It never comes off as flighty or inconsequential, and yet is never heavy-handed or too serious. Hospital shows are a dime a dozen these days, as we’ve had twenty years of E.R. rip-offs and clones to deal with. Nowadays, they come off as repetitive and overly dramatic; on the flip side, there are shows like Scrubs, which are enjoyable but due to the zaniness of the stories struggle when they attempt to do something with weight. Nurse Jackie falls somewhere in the middle, opting for character over medical stories, humor over goofiness, reality over melodrama.
Falco brings intensity to her role, the only “normal” person in the hospital and yet the most flawed of them all. Just as she did with Carmela Soprano, Falco is engaging and likable, even though her character doesn’t always do likable things. She bends the rules and at times breaks the law, but it all makes sense within the context of her character.
Nurse Jackie is a fun, easy-to-watch comedy. With its half-hour episodes, it’s not hard to plow through the entire season in one sitting, as Season One’s 12 episodes only constitute six hours. It isn’t as funny or as addictive as other premium comedies such as Californication and Entourage, but then again, it’s not trying to be.
The three-disc DVD set includes cast and crew commentaries, and three or four behind-the-scenes featurettes.