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OK, we admit it -- we could watch actress Edie Falco, aka Carmela Soprano, sort her closet and be fascinated. We love just about anything she does, including her new series Nurse Jackie, which debuted on HOT's Channel 3 last Wednesday night.
As Jackie Peyton, an ER nurse at All Saints Hospital in New York City, we first meet her as sirens blare and she prepares for the next case: snorting some drugs "to get me up and running." She also quotes what her fifth grade English teacher taught her: "People with the greatest capacity for good are the ones with the same capacity for evil - smart nun."
For Nurse Jackie is no saint, for sure. She's got a sharp tongue that spares no one, including a cocky young surgeon whose refusal to do a brain scan she's certain he needs costs her a patient, a bike-riding messenger. She's also not above bending the law, if it will allow someone to benefit, in this case forging an organ donor's card for the messenger: "You should not have died, Peter Michael Donovan," she says as she does the deed, "It may have been a shame, but will not be a waste."
With a short haircut and bloodshot eyes, viewers more used to seeing Falco living an easier life as a mobster's wife might not recognize her. But there's no missing her superb acting, made even better by an intelligent cast and good script.
She always seems to get into strange situations as well, either when the young Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli of Six Feet Under and Damages), who lost her patient, reacts to her verbal tongue-lashing by grabbing her boob. "Is this happening or not happening - I can't tell," she says, with him explaining it as a way he reacts to criticism: "involuntary sexual touches."
There are enough voluntary ones to go around, however, as Jackie has a quickie with the hospital pharmacologist. But in the middle of sex, her back gives out, leading to a hysterical scene that finds the two forced to call it off and collapse into a nearby bed just so she can recover.
Saddled with a talkative new intern named Zoe, Jackie turns to her and says: "A quick question? Shut up!" "I don't do chatty. Quiet. Quiet and mean," she tells the girl. And when a Colombian-embassy connected thug comes in who sliced up a prostitute and denies any responsibility, Jackie simply takes the ear the bastard lost in the fight, drops it in the toilet, flushes, and says: "F--- you."
There's the hospital administrator, Mrs. Akalitus (Ann Deavere Smith of West Wing), with whom Jackie has a love-hate relationship and about whom someone says "a house was dropped on her sister." Nonetheless, the two share their cynicism in the dark comedy.
The use of both lighting and music - with the repeated verse: "Gotta get off of this ride" used to describe the frenetic, emotionally scarring life Jackie tries to live with a combination of humor and bravado - are also excellent. When her pharmacist friend meets her outside, he hands her what she knows is "something for my back" - a can of Dr. Pepper, some Ho-Ho cakes, andâ€¦some pills. "Love you," he says, heading home. "Love you too," says Jackie. Passing a bike messenger on the way home, she advises him to "be careful." But after being cussed, she jabs his front tire with a syringe, in an act meant to prevent another useless death
No, this is no Clara Barton or Florence Nightingale. She's a real person, with real frailties andâ€¦.as it turns out in a surprise ending of the series debut - a real family at home, including two young girls and a husband who just like the bike messenger, has made her pancakes.
Jackie says in a voice-over that if God were to make her a saint, she'd like to be St. Augustine: "He knew there was some good in him and he knew there was some not so goodâ€¦Make me good, God," she pleads, "but not yet."
Falco's bravura performance and a great script make this a must-see Showtime series. While hospital shows have been on their way out lately, this one's worth checking in for. Tony, Paulie, Christopher, Meadow and AJ may not be around anymore, but Falco shows she can shine on her own.
Nurse Jackie airs on Wednesdays on Channel 3 at 10 p.m.