6.05.2009

Nurse Jackie Review

For a while I've been waiting for a decent TV show that shows the world what nursing is really like. Nurses deal with so much on a daily basis, you'd think it'd be a cinch to come up with a drama where nurses are intelligent professionals, not bed-pan changers and foils for genius-doctor's frustrations. Shows like "House" eliminate nurses entirely, while most other doctor-driven series give us doctors doing many of the jobs that nurses do every day. 

So when I saw "Nurse Jackie" advertised, I decided to give it a chance. Edie Falco certainly looked like the ED nurses I work with (aside from the tight-fitting designer scrubs). Maybe she'd be a modern cipher for modern nursing. We need such a person to give the world a window on the demanding and challenging profession of modern nursing. 

Alas, she's a foul-mouthed, pill-popping, ethically challenged, cheating-on-her-husband "saint."  In other words, in an effort to smash old stereotypes about nursing, the writers have gone to the opposite extreme. This could have worked, but I couldn't help feeling that the writers are being lazy.

There's an old joke among writers. Whenever you see a quote from Webster's Dictionary leading off a story, you know the writer has run out of ideas and stopped trying before the first word. 

That's the impression I get from Nurse Jackie.

In an effort to try to make the lead more "relatable" and human, they fell back on old crutches - drug abuse, infidelity, moral ambiguity, questionable ethics. Instead of the "Hooker with the Heart of Gold" the new  cheap plot driver is a outwardly respected lead character with a multitude of sins -- "Saint with Skeletons in the Closet." Load up all the vices you can think of and you'll have lots of plot lines for future episodes. Particularly for female leads, this seems to be the easiest way to make the protagonist interesting. TNT's got a lot of these shows right now. 

Oh, and the only male nurse is gay. Gee, didn't see that one coming.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for showing the ethical challenges of medicine and the human side of women professionals ... but why do they always have to be drug and booze addicts? Why does every strong married woman have to be cheating on her husband? Aren't there plenty of challenges in the nursing profession without trying to embody all the worst traits in the lead character? Here's a plot twist, show a hard-charging female professional with her act together. That'd be a something new! I work with and know a lot of these women. I don't know how they Hell they do it.

Other problems with the show? They appear to be working an a converted church or museum instead of a modern hospital. I work in a Catholic hospital -- the daily prayer is piped into all the rooms -- and I can tell you that there are no 20 foot tall murals of tortured saints covering the walls. Sure there's a chapel and a giant cross in the lobby but the nuns don't giggle and tour through the ED in their habits pointing at patient's genitals. 

There are plenty of details to make your eyes roll too -- the trauma patient in a soft-collar was a joke, right?Just a way to telegraph how little the writers know about their subject? No head to toe trauma assessment? Trust me you can still kill 'em tragically in lots of other ways. 

 And where are all the other nurses? It's a busy ER and there are no techs? No wonder she's working 80 hours a week! You'd think that after years of ER, a big budget show would at least one or two technical advisors to help get the simple things right.

Anyway, the show is a good opportunity for Edie Falco to get attention for her dramatic abilities. I'm sure she'll win an award or something. Sadly, we'll still be looking for a modern representation of a modern nurse on television. Apparently there are a number of shows in development, so I'll skip Nurse Jackie and keep looking.

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