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“Nurse Jackie”: Hooked on Falco

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I’ve become strangely addicted to Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie.” What is that hoodoo-voodoo that Edie Falco do so well?
 
The show overall, like its titular character, has its shortcomings. But Falco is mesmerizing, and she’s given plenty to work with.

As an tough, battle-scarred ER nurse in a crossroads-of-the-world Manhattan hospital, Falco gets to play the hero, the healer, the rogue who fights the inanity of the health care system for the good of her patients. She’s also very addicted to powerful prescription painkillers, and although you’d think she’d be able to stash them by the fistful, considerable time is devoted to depicting her daily machinations to feed her habit.
 
Falco is unfailingly fantastic in the role. She makes you believe in Jackie Peyton’s every move, every flinch, every outburst. You know that Falco would be just as good if she were playing a sanitation worker, or an accountant, but it doesn’t hurt that the nurse part puts her in high-stakes and highly emotional situations. It is a tribute to her talent that I never think about Carmela Soprano while watching “Nurse Jackie.”
 
Falco is so good that she rises above the show’s preposterous elements, and she distracts from the weakness of some of the supporting cast. The show’s half-hour format also helps. You can be dazzled by Falco’s perf as a character study for 26-28 minutes, but even she couldn’t carry an episode much longer. I don’t think I would have hung in with “Nurse Jackie” had it been an hourlong skein.
 
(Spoiler alert — stop reading if you haven’t seen the show because I’m getting into plot specifics.)
 
The biggest problem is buying the idea that Jackie’s hospital coworkers in Manhattan wouldn’t know thatNursejackie3 she’s married with two kids in Queens. It’s just too hard to believe, and impossible to sustain. I know New York’s a big city and all but puh-leeze. Also on the wrong end of ridiculous is the notion that Jackie would remove her wedding ring every morning before stepping into the ER. Just can’t see it, especially for the character.
 
Of the supporting cast, some of them really stand out as less than great when working opposite La Falco. Looking on the positive side, the one who matches Falco for naturalness and brings her own distinctive goofy charm is Merritt Wever (pictured right), who plays the naive nursing student Zoey.
 
I’ve seen the entire run of first-season episodes, and without giving anything away, I think the writers either lost their road map for where “Nurse Jackie” was going, or they never had one in the first place.

The directing on the show, on the other hand, has been consistently good. The half-hour format seems to force a spare, no-showing-off approach. Steve Buscemi (pictured below with Falco), an old “Sopranos” hand, has helmed multiple episodes.

“Nurse Jackie” doesn’t have to sweat out its fate as its first season comes to a close next month. The Lionsgate TV series was picked up after its first airing. Falco is that good.

So here’s hoping the material rises to Falco’s level in season two, set to begin production in the fall.
 
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One more thought: Edie Falco has undoubtedly earned herself an Emmy nomination next year for “Nurse Jackie.” But in what category — Comedy? Drama?
 
It’s billed as a dark comedy, and the half-hour format naturally points to the comedy (see Toni Collette’s nod for “United States of Tara,” which is only a little bit lighter than “Nurse Jackie”). But there are precious few laughs for Falco and crew. It’s a melodrama through and through.

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