June is cable’s version of National Nurses Month, with Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” and now TNT’s “Hawthorne,” starring Jada Pinkett Smith as a chief nurse. Yet despite a producing pedigree that includes “St. Elsewhere’s” John Masius, this latest drama administers to a pretty generic formula, hoping a strong female lead will continue the inroads made with “The Closer” and “Saving Grace.” Despite some potentially intriguing characters, about the best one can scribble on “Hawthorne’s” chart is that it’s an improvement over TNT’s earlier forays into medicine, “Heartland” and “Saved.”
Pinkett Smith’s Christina Hawthorne (they capitalize the “RN” in the credits) is one tough customer — protective of her charges, and bravely holding up as a single mom a year after her husband’s death.
Her introduction, however, comes amid a typically frenetic day in the life of Richmond Trinity Hospital, as a male nurse (David Julian Hirsh) tries to fit in while finding time to hit on a colleague (Christina Moore); a homeless woman brings Hawthorne an ailing infant; someone attempts suicide; and Hawthorne’s friend Bobbie (Suleka Mathew) flirts with overcoming fears about dating again.
Directed by Mikael Salomon from Masius’ script, the debut hour proves busy but not particularly distinctive. Indeed, the show’s main ingredient — as is the case with “Nurse Jackie,” a far darker construct — simply appears to be shifting the spotlight from doctors who care to nurses who care, which doesn’t add a whole helluva lot to this well-traveled genre.
Second and third episodes do showcase some high-wattage guest stars — including Cloris Leachman and Susan Ruttan — and the third hour is the best of the lot, which offers some hope that the show will evolve. On the down side, the exchanges between Hawthorne and her surly daughter (Hannah Hodson) grow tedious quickly, and a recurring gag about an unintelligible Asian doctor is border-line offensive.
Granted, “ER’s” graceful exit leaves a void that other programmers are doubtless eager to fill, and “Hawthorne” hews closely to that gurney-pushing prescription. Thus far, anyway, with the exception of Mathew’s appealing sidekick nurse, the peripheral characters don’t pop — including the title heroine, who’s a little too stoic and saintly to be as compelling as the leads of those aforementioned dramas. (And by the way, a la “Grey’s Anatomy,” do people in hospitals ever date people other than co-workers?)
“Whose side are you on?” a nurse asks Hawthorne indignantly during the premiere. In the final analysis, only those who don’t mind being able to shout back the answer in advance — “Right now, the patient’s” — will be eager to check into a place as predictable as Richmond Trinity.