TV Review: Edie Falco Returns to Emmy-Winning Role of ‘Nurse Jackie’

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CHICAGO – Showtime has a patented formula of hiring great stars (William H. Macy, Michael C. Hall, Toni Collette, Mary-Louise Parker) and building series around them. It has worked well enough that the last two Emmy winners for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series have been won by the network — Collette for the first season of “United States of Tara” and Edie Falco for the second season of “Nurse Jackie,” both of which return tonight, March 28th, 2011. Television Rating: 4.5/5.0
Television Rating: 4.5/5.0

Like a nurse managing multiple patients with a variety of illnesses, Jackie Peyton (Falco) has spent many of her recent days trying to keep a house of cards from collapsing. It sure looked like that’s what happened at the end of season two after her husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and her friend Eleanor (Eve Best) confronting Jackie about her disturbing pharmaceutical bills, ones that made clear that Jackie has a drug problem. The interesting about “Nurse Jackie” is that she would probably admit she has a drug problem, but it’s the least of her concerns. She is almost like a shark in that she needs to keep moving from family to work to life-saving situations to friends to lovers. If it takes a little Vicodin – one of the more widely abused medications – to pull that off, then so be it.

Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie
Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie
Photo credit: Courtesy of Showtime Networks

The third season of “Nurse Jackie” opens exactly where the second season ended. Of course, Jackie turns her intervention to her advantage and heads right back into her life. She doesn’t have time to confess a drug problem. So, she denies. She lies. She moves on. And, one of the most daring things about the writing on “Nurse Jackie” is the subtle implication that we should be grateful that she does just that. Jackie keeps her family together and saves lives (or makes the end of them easier) on a daily basis. “Nurse Jackie” is daring enough to suggest that drug abuse, infidelity, and other perceived sins have kept a great nurse where she needs to be to make the lives of others easier or even possible.

Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie
Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie
Photo credit: Courtesy of Showtime Networks

“Nurse Jackie” isn’t a show about a drug addict sliding toward rock bottom. It’s about one on a plateau who constantly finds new ways to stay there and keep disaster at bay. Of course, it’s getting harder to do that. In particular, Kevin seems to be figuring out his better half. He knows more clearly when she’s lying and, in the first episode, he discovers one of her bigger deceptions when he goes to visit her at the hospital and none of Jackie’s co-workers even knows he exists.

As much as she’s keeping her plates spinning, it’s the crossover of her worlds that seems to be a theme of season three. At the beginning of this series, Jackie so completely kept her duality apportioned that her work boyfriend (Paul Schulze) didn’t even know she was married and neither did her co-workers. When Eleanor and Kevin confronted Jackie together, the problem wasn’t just that they thought she had a drug problem but that she now has to face it in both halves of her life. How can she work with Eleanor? What will Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) do about the situation? How will her other co-workers (including Peter Facinelli, Merritt Wever, and Arjun Gupta) respond if they ever find out?

One of many interesting things about “Nurse Jackie” to this critic is the fact that the show feels so concurrent through its seasons. The tone hasn’t changed at all. There’s no style changes and it all feels like part of the same season. I like the consistency, particularly in the performances. Sometimes you see shows where the characters unexplainably change between seasons. Not “Nurse Jackie.” The show has been great since the first episode and nothing much has changed.

The writing is strong but everything that truly works about “Nurse Jackie” comes back to the work by Mrs. Falco. She’s stunningly good. She has taken a great character and grounded her in a realism that most other actresses would have ignored in favor of melodrama. “Nurse Jackie” gets ridiculous occasionally but Falco always finds the truth in the moment. She makes everyone around her better, especially Facinelli and Gupta, an actor I wasn’t convinced by at the beginning of season two but now think of as a crucial part of the fabric of the show. Perhaps that’s a great statement on the show itself. Like everything in Jackie Peyton’s life, sometimes things that don’t at first seem like they’re going to work find a way of doing so. This is one of the best comedies on television.

“Nurse Jackie” returns on Showtime on Monday, March 28th, 2011 at 9pm CST. It stars Edie Falco, Eve Best, Peter Facinelli, Anna Deavere Smith, Dominic Fumusa, Paul Schulze, Arjun Gupta, and Merritt Wever. It was created by Evan Dunsky and Liz Brixius & Linda Wallem. content director Brian Tallerico

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