Nurse Jackie is first and foremost a show that asks the question “Just how awesome is Edie Falco?” The commentaries and behind-the-scenes material focus on Falco’s primacy in the show, and fortunately, the answer is “really awesome”. In the solar system that is Nurse Jackie, Edie is the sun, and her character, Jackie Peyton, is quite the star.
Jackie Peyton, RN is compassionate, vindictive, caring, a vigilante, a passionate girlfriend, a philanderer, a loving wife and mother to two daughters, and a drug addict. None of these things, no part of her life contradicts any other part. She somehow manages to hold everything together, but just barely.
By taking the nurse’s perspective on medicine, as opposed to the doctor’s or the patient’s, Nurse Jackie provides a very different view of hospitals and the medical system. Jackie is the queen in her castle – the two main doctors in the show, Drs. O’Hara (Eve Best) and Cooper (Peter Facinelli), adjust their schedules to work with her (not the other way around) because she is the best. The other nurses look to her when things go wrong, from the fabulous “Mo-Mo” aka Mohammed (Haaz Sleiman) to the giant but gentle Thor (Stephen Wallem), as well as the student nurse, Zoey (Merritt Wever). Jackie’s only real superior is Mrs. Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), her boss and administrator.
Rounding out the cast are Eddie the pharmacist, played by Paul Schulze (who is also Jackie’s boyfriend and her life-line to pain-killer meds for her back), her husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa), and her daughters Fiona (Daisy Tahan) and Grace (Ruby Jerins).
Jackie works night shift in the emergency room in a NYC hospital, getting stab victims, domestic abuse-es and abuse-ers, bike messengers and more. She is an angel of mercy to those who need her and an angel of vengeance to those who cross her. She breaks the rules at the drop of a hat based on her own moral code, seeking to help and heal, but occasionally also to deliver painful justice.
Falco is a marvel in the series, showing great emotional depths and agility as Jackie navigates her complicated life. In the first episode, Jackie says “Make me good, God, but not yet,” as she returns home to her loving husband and puts her wedding ring back on. She keeps her personal life secret from everyone except her confidant, Dr. O’Hara, who knows about her husband, boyfriend, and her children, but not her drug addiction. No one is allowed to see the whole Jackie, she keeps secrets from everyone, though between all of the facets of her life, she is fulfilled.
Though Falco’s Jackie is the Alpha and Omega of the series, the other characters do well to add to Jackie as well as standing on their own. Student nurse Zoey reminds Jackie of her own past as an optimistic nurse, focused on healing in a system designed to flip beds and reduce people to problems to be solved and charts to be monitored. Prim and aloof, Dr. O’Hara has all of the material goods she could need, but reaches out to Jackie when her home life falls apart.
A surprise star in the show is Ruby Jerins, who plays Jackie’s nervous daughter, Grace. Grace binges on news and documentaries, taking in all the world’s fear and internalizing it, leading Jackie and Kevin to move her to a private school and Jackie to take a mother-daughter tap class. Young actress Ruby does a fantastic job of portraying a girl wise and worried beyond her years without the emotional apparatus of a grown woman.
The show has a great way of finding the humor in dramatic scenes, where an interaction will turn or reverse on a comic moment, deflating a situation.
As the season goes on, Jackie’s intricate web of lies comes apart as her loved ones cross paths, her addiction leads to mistakes and miscalculations, and to respond, she ups the stakes until the season finale shows Jackie going completely over the top and scrambling to keep her life from falling apart.
The most impressive thing about the show is the quality of execution. The writing is strong, the acting arguably better, and the ensemble bears up and supports Falco’s Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild-nominated performance.
The extras include several director-and-actor commentaries, making-of-featurettes, and my favorite, the Nurse Stories. Showtime interviewed nurses and solicited stories that are sometimes scary, sometimes sweet, and stand as a reminder for why it is important to show the nurse’s perspective on medicine, a humanistic perspective where healing is the priority – nurse as patient’s advocate and constant ally in the process. Of course, there are likely to be bad nurses as well as doctors, but Nurse Jackie moves towards a balance of showing a different side of the medical system.
Nurse Jackie is for fans of the darkly comic, viewers looking for a different take on the medical drama, or people who are still mourning the loss of The Sopranos and long for more Edie Falco.