NURSE JACKIE: OD and DOA

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You really have to love a show about nurses which opens its very first episode with the stoned nurse, Jackie, played by the Emmy-winning Edie Falco, lying on the floor in an old-fashioned Florence Nightingale nursing uniform, quoting from T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.

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This dark satire about a nurse addicted to any kind of drugs she could get hold of, while trying to be a good mother, a relatively good wife (albeit an unfaithful one, with the hospital pharmacist, no less), and a good nurse in the ER of an underfunded, under-staffed NY city hospital had us hooked.

From the chatterbox, note-taking student nurse Zoey (Merritt Wever)

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to the upper-class British Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best) who sits calmly through lunch while a restaurant patron chokes (because she’s “off the clock”),

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from “inappropriate touching tics” Dr. “Coop” Cooper (Peter Facinelli)

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to its cameo appearances by famous actors, as patients and family members (Eli Wallach, Blythe Danner, Swoosie Kurtz, Julia Ormond), the show rocked.

Nurse Jackie was a hit critically and with audiences. Edie Falco was nominated for an Emmy or two. She deserved them, as did many of the other cast members, as these clips from the first 3 episodes of season one demonstrate. Warning: Language.

A couple of seasons ago, however, especially last year and this, when Jackie got clean, relapsed, got clean, relapsed, etc. ad nauseum, the show lost all its satiric glints. It also dulled its comedic edge (and a good many of the cast members and virtually all of the cameo appearances by guest stars simply disappeared).

Nurse Jackie and its writers did the very thing that eventually destroys all dark comedies and satires: it attempted to become a drama, but, unfortunately, not a very interesting one.

Spoiler Alert: Last night, for example, after a 23-minute episode of complete hallucinations while Jackie was de-toxing at home with her friends and boyfriend, the show ended with Jackie immediately relapsing. End Spoiler.

Nurse Jackie is no longer biting satire, it’s not dark comedy; it is not even amusing or interesting.

I don’t like any of the characters, not even the ones who are desperately trying to help Jackie get and stay clean. Even those who’ve been on the show since the beginning have changed their personalities, and they’re simply not interesting any more.

Coop’s a buffoon, butting heads and other body parts with any doctor on the ER staff, but no longer in a funny, satirical way. In a sad way.

Zoey just roams around trying to hide her relationship with a staff member, then being blue when it’s over. She doesn’t chatter at all. I miss that.

The Director Akalitus (Anna Deveare Smith) doesn’t run the ER as she did in the beginning, showing humanity and humor in her “dictatorship” and fight over funds.

The gay nurse Thor (Stephen Wallem), who was always in search of the perfect mate and who knew more about football than the heterosexual Dr. Coop, is apparently now in a relationship (though one that is never shown) and is hardly on the show.

It’s sad when comedies try to become social dramas and fail, as did The United States of Tara. If the writers want to do drama, do drama: then the show might work. If the writers want to do satire or dark comedy, do that instead. Blend them even, from the very beginning. But starting as a brilliant satire about an addicted nurse in an NYC ER, then turning into a 3-season drama about the nurse trying to get clean, but not really wanting to get clean, and constantly relapsing, is just repetitious.

Spoiler Alert: To my great dismay, during the 90% hallucinatory episode of Nurse Jackie last night, Jackie Peyton overdosed, detoxed, fought with her live-in boyfriend again, then immediately relapsed. End Spoiler.

Unfortunately, she and the show have overdosed on all this addiction/recovery/relapse storyline, which is dull.

Worst of all, I simply don’t like Jackie any longer. Her character is a bore. And if you don’t care about the protagonist of the show, there’s a problem. I don’t care about her desperate attempts to get illegal drugs, her lying to hide her addiction, and the complications in her personal life. I used to — because they were subordinate to her being a good nurse in the ER. Now, they’re the entire show.

Nurse Jackie has strayed far from its original premise: Jackie as an addicted nurse in a busy emergency room doing her important job relatively competently 90% of the time. Rarely does the show deal with patients or medicine any longer, concentrating instead on the personal relationships of the ever changing characters, virtually eliminating Jackie’s family entirely (except for daughter Grace [Ruby Jerins] who doesn’t get to do much except take drugs herself and be mean to Jackie).

During last night’s episode, I’m afraid, Nurse Jackie OD’d on the detox/rehab/relapse storyline, and is now, for me, at least, officially DOA.

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