CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
TV Review: TNT’s Overly Earnest ‘HawthoRNe’ Won’t Cure Summer TV Blues
CHICAGO – TNT’s medical drama “HawthoRNe” would have felt overly generic in any month of the year, but debuting in the same one as Showtime’s far darker, subtler and more entertaining “Nurse Jackie” does the show no favors at all. Jada Pinkett Smith executive-produces and stars in a well-intentioned program with a good pedigree (John Masius of “St. Elsewhere” is one of the producers) but one that feels like a relic of a bygone era of more manipulative television.
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
The premiere of “HawthoRNe” introduces us to the title character, Nurse Christina Hawthorne, on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. Hawthorne is the Chief Nursing Officer at Richmond Trinity Hospital, leading a group of nurses against two-dimensional doctors always trying to screw them over and patients who need them to survive.
Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan.
Photo credit: Erik Heinila/TNT
The first episode of “HawthoRNe” features a homeless woman stuck in a horrible situation, a doctor who ignores a nurse when he corrects her error, and even family drama with the mother (Joanna Cassidy) of Christina’s deceased husband. It also actually features a character saying to Hawthorne, “It’s you against the system.”
It’s dialogue like that sinks all the effort on the part of Smith, Vartan, and the rest of the talented cast. TNT has carved a niche with strong female characters like the ones on “The Closer” and “Saving Grace,” but it’s impossible for Smith to feel genuine and believable with so much generic TV writing around her.
David Julian Hirsh, Christina Moore, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan, Suleka Mathew.
Photo credit: Robert Trachtenberg/TNT
Jada Pinkett Smith and co-star Michael Vartan (“Alias”) are undeniably good actors but they’re left stranded by two-dimensional, overly earnest, manipulative writing, at least in the series premiere. There is enough talent in front of the camera and behind it that “Hawthorne” could develop into something more interesting, but I can only judge based on the premiere episode that was sent.
There’s so much going in the first episode of “HawthoRNe” - character introductions mixed with single mother drama, a suicide attempt, social commentary, a grieving wife, and generic medical mysteries - and yet none of it hits home. It’s all straight from the “medical drama” handbook with very few surprises. It all seems far too easy, even for the talented actors involved, and one has to wonder what drew the talented Smith to such safe, dull material.
As bad as the obvious dialogue, I equally couldn’t stand the way the doctors were turned into such obvious villains in the premiere. “Nurse Jackie” distinguishes between nurses and doctors so much more distinctly without turning the latter into the enemy. It’s not always nurse vs. doctor. They do have to work together. To be fair, Vartan plays a “good doctor,” the Chief of Surgery who also treated Christina’s husband.
Ultimately, “HawthoRNe” is simply yet another show about a hero with her own emotional problems trying to save lives. If the characters are given more time to breathe and allowed out from under the generic plotting of the premiere, the show has a chance to work, but the test of a first episode is whether or not you’ll return for the follow-up episode and it will be tough to check into this TV hospital again.