You never know what Edie Falco’s Nurse Jackie is going to pull out of one of her scrubs pockets next. Her wedding band? A packet of sweetener actually filled with carefully crushed Vicodin? Maybe the separate cell phone she keeps just so her pharmacist lover can call any time? Whatever she does, one thing’s for sure: Showtime was so pleased with Nurse Jackie’s opening night numbers Monday that it’s already ordered up a second 12-episode season of the buzzed about half-hour show.
For those who could not get enough of Falco as Carmela Soprano—and one could successfully argue that none of the women on “The Sopranos” really got enough airtime–here she is front and center on pay cable, taking no prisoners during the course of her day as an ER nurse at a New York City hospital.
If you missed the premiere, her first victim was a hotshot young doctor, whose misdiagnosis caused a young bike messenger to die from his injuries. After forging the victim’s name on an organ donor card and ordering the transplant people to get there pronto, Jackie read Dr. Cooper (“Twilight’s” vampire patriarch Peter Facinelli) the riot act, telling him to "stay the f— out of my way," and that she’d seen hundreds of jerk-offs like him. The rant ended in some inappropriate sexual touching on the doctor’s part, harassment he blamed on a Tourette syndrome-like disorder—an issue that will rear its head throughout the season.
And so will the secrets that Jackie juggles so expertly, starting with her drug addiction, the husband and two daughters she hides from co-workers and her love affair with Eddie the pharmacist (Paul Schulze, who, wink/nod, played the priest with whom Carmela had a chaste fling on “The Sopranos.”) Their brief workaday trysts usually end in timed cuddling–and packages of Percocet.
Jackie is such a pro at keeping her addiction under wraps that she acts surprised when he regularly hands over meds for whatever she says ails her. But we the viewers are in on her game. We’ve seen her fishing out a pill dropped down her bathroom drain with a toothbrush and a piece of gum while her hunky husband waits patiently outside the door.
Even her unlikely best friend, the arrogant, hot British doctor (Eve Best as Dr. Eleanor O’Hara) who loves impossibly high heels and tight skirts, isn’t in on the secret—yet. But lots of dirt in other areas will come out as the two ladies manage to skip out regularly to lunch at elegant places near the fictional All Saint’s Hospital.
We will see Zoey (Merritt Wever), the zaftig, naïve nursing student who’s under Jackie’s wing, rapidly adapt to the hospital’s political and medical machinations, including how her awe for Dr. O’Hara somehow enables her to become a lunch mate one lucky day. She’ll come a long way from her first day on the job, when she threw up after being asked to put a severed ear on ice, still absorbing what Jackie told her: "I don’t do chatty. I like quiet. Quiet and mean. Those are my people."
She’s a quick study, that one.
We’ll also learn what happens in the love life of fellow nurse Mohammed “Mo-mo” de la Cruz (Haaz Sleiman), who is in an overly dramatic relationship with his boyfriend and constantly fending off passes from other hospital staffers and patients—or so he sees it that way.
Ah, the patients and their emergencies. The guy whose cat claws him in all the wrong places. The stoner who tried to blow fireworks out of his ass. The woman who’s brazenly enjoying her last cigarettes as she’s dying of cancer—and getting the whole staff in on a conspiracy to help her. The drama, (and we won’t do any more spoilers on this one) unfolds right under the nose of hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus (“sounds like a disease”), played by the commanding Anna Deavere Smith. In control, until she puts one of Jackie’s magic sweeteners in her coffee.
Yes, Jackie’s compassion for many of her patients extends far beyond the call of duty. We’ve seen her proverbially rob Peter to pay Paul, taking money from a scumbag slasher’s coat pocket and giving it to a pregnant widow. In an upcoming episode, she’ll whiz through the aisles of the hospital pharmacy picking up medications and passing them in a paper bag to a patient’s caregiver.
Addict. Adulterer. And mother. Why Jackie is hiding her family life to her co-workers is not yet clear. We see that she and her handsome, loving husband — who owns a bar — have two adorable daughters. But later episodes will reveal psychological problems with the eldest that shake Jackie to her core—and send her straight to the medicine cabinet.
Secrets and lies, life and death situations. Through it all, through knowing blue eyes that match her scrubs, Falco’s interpretation of this edgy, contemporary character is exceptional—and the dark comedy is riveting.
Nurse Jackie airs at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT Mondays on Showtime