Empty Cradle,” a quintessential title among the diapered dramas in the hamper this season, pushes baby snatching to the clinical max.
But the fear Rebecca Soladay’s script really touches is to cast a dark net over the given safety a pregnant woman feels when she enters a delivery room. Talk about untapping basic anxieties and worst-case scenarios.
In a sharp and effective departure, Kate Jackson plays a demented obstetrics nurse with a pregnancy fetish (based on the true-life case of convicted nurse Norma Armistead).
In a desperate effort to hold onto her lover (a callow Don Yello), Jackson’s nurse pads her tummy with pillows and fakes giving birth by drugging a woman in the throes of real labor in the hospital where the crazed nurse works. She replaces the healthy newborn with a dead, premature fetus and waltzes home to show off her new baby girl.
But there’s a double catch. Her unknowing lover wants a boy, not a daughter! And the distraught real mom (Lori Loughlin, by now freaking out) starts an investigation that ultimately nails the twisted nurse only because she was reckless enough to murder another pregnant woman for her male fetus.
Jackson, with a bravura role, turns in a multidimensional and textured performance — complete with wiry demeanor, feverish eyes and jolts of scary temper.
By contrast, Loughlin lends the show, directed by Paul Schneider, its requisite soft, matronly balance and all-purpose sympathy factor. Supporting player Jona Blechman, as Jackson’s squirrelly accomplice of a teenage son, embroiders the edges of one of the more dysfunctional families imaginable.