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Showtime’s newest foray into dark comedy, “Nurse Jackie,” features a lead character who could teach Fox’s Dr. House a thing or two. She’s the most competent and brilliant person at All Saints Hospital and takes matters into her own hands as necessary: She’ll sign the back of a deceased man’s driver’s license to turn him into an organ donor or flush away an ear severed from a rapist’s head.
But Jackie also is hooked on painkillers for a bad back, and the guy she’s boinking in the supply closet is a co-worker, not the adoring father of her two daughters. She’s conflicted, to say the least — and might have been a unlikable character. But as written by creators Linda Wallem, Liz Brixius and Evan Dunsky, she’s sympathetic, and as embodied by Edie Falco, she’s a puzzle worth getting to know.
Jackie is Falco’s first starring role since HBO’s “The Sopranos” clocked out in 2007, and she couldn’t be any more different than Carmela. Hair cropped short, face nearly absent of makeup, Falco’s Jackie has a pared-down, almost ergonomic appearance, and she’s fierce in the role — eyes wide, brow furrowed, Noo Yawk voice flat and knowing. Having an adjustable moral compass that points in whatever direction she wants — “Make me good, God,” her voice-over prays, “but not yet” — is the only way she can work.
She’d be a fascinating character study even if that was all “Jackie” had to offer. But though the show might run at an “ER” pace, the episodes thus far have a stirring, literary quality to them: smart, keenly observed glances into both sides of a woman’s mirror married with what might be the most striking cinematography ever lavished on a half-hour comedy.
Is “Jackie” believable? Not in the least. But the fantastical creation of Jackie Peyton, perhaps surprisingly, has shades of gray that make her very real indeed. Both show and character are something wonderful to behold — and worth taking multiple doses of.
Airdate: 10:30-11:30 p.m. Monday, June 8 (Showtime)
Production: Showtime, Lionsgate
Cast: Edie Falco, Eve Best, Peter Facinelli, Merritt Wever, Haaz Sleiman, Paul Schulze, Anna Deavere Smith, Dominic Fumusa, Ruby Jerins, Daisy Tahan, Stephen Wallem
Executive producers: Linda Wallem, Liz Brixius, John Melfi, Caryn Mandabach
Creator-writer: Evan Dunsky and Liz Brixius & Linda Wallem
Co-executive producers: Richie Jackson, Christine Zander, Mark Hudis, Evan Dunsky
Producers: Allen Coulter (premiere episode), Jerry Kupfer (premiere episode)
Consulting producer: Rick Cleveland
Directors: Various, including Allen Coulter (premiere episode), Craig Zisk, Steve Buscemi, Paul Feig, Scott Ellis
Directors of photography: Mott Hupfel (premiere episode), Vanja Cernjul
Production designer: Bob Shaw
Costume designer: Suzanne McCabe
Casting: Julie Tucker, Ross Meyerson
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