Hawthorne -- TV Review

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose: Forty-one years after Diahann Carroll broke barriers as the first leading black actress on a TV series when she played a single widowed mom who was a nurse in "Julia," TNT introduces to its stable of strong, slightly unstable ladies Christine Hawthorne, R.N., played by Jada Pinkett Smith. She's a single widowed mom. And a nurse.

Take what you like from that history lesson, but that aside, "Hawthorne" is -- despite at last placing the no-nonsense Pinkett Smith in a well-deserved topliner slot -- a fairly standard hospital drama told from the point of view of the nurses. As we've already learned from Showtime's "Nurse Jackie," doctors are generally male, haughty and uninterested in the human part of the curative equation -- that's what those wise, overworked, largely female nurses are for.

Such is the case at Richmond Trinity Hospital, where Hawthorne toils as the chief nursing officer. She knows how to game the system, but she's also getting over the death of her husband a year ago and battling with a recalcitrant teenage daughter. Her mother-in-law's a battle-ax on the hospital board, but Hawthorne has at least one friend with leverage -- a sympathetic, lollipop-carrying doctor.

The medical drama is so pervasive on TV both past and present that any new one must fight to stand out, and though "Hawthorne's" nurse angle is fresh, the plots barely reach subpar "St. Elsewhere" territory.

It's up to Pinkett Smith to carry the load, yet she's heartfelt without much of a heartbeat, saddled with such lines as "I'm a nurse, dammit!" and "It's my job" and surrounded by equally shrug-worthy characters who say things like, "There's no right way to grieve."

On the one hand, it is nice to see one of TNT's ladies not weighed down with vices (Hawthorne's worst problem is insomnia), but barring some serious shocks to the system, this patient is not going to live long. For now, it does at least have an etherlike quality: It'll lull you into thinking you've watched some far better, far more intriguing drama. And then you'll go quietly to sleep.

Airdate: 9-10 p.m. Tuesday, June 16 (TNT)
Production: Sony Pictures Television
Cast: Jada Pinkett Smith, Suleka Mathew, David Julian Hirsh, Christina Moore, Hannah Hodson, Michael Vartan
Executive producers: Mikael Salomon, John Masius, Jamie Tarses, Jada Pinkett Smith
Creator-writer: John Masius
Producers: Miguel Melendez, Preston Fischer
Director: Mikael Salomon
Director of photography: Peter Menzies Jr.
Production designer: David Sandefur
Costume designer: Christine Peters
Casting: Megan Branman, Dylann Brander