Whether she's snorting ground-up Percocet tablets or flushing a man's severed ear down a toilet, Edie Falco brings a genial forcefulness to Nurse Jackie. It's the latest bit of cutting-edginess from Showtime, a new series that could have come off as jaded or self-satisfied were Falco not anchoring it with such firm authority. She plays Jackie Peyton, a veteran ER nurse who's deeply cynical about the doctors she works with and openheartedly kind to the patients in her care. ''Doctors don't heal, they diagnose we heal,'' she says of nurses in the second episode. From anyone else, that might seem like hubris; from the woman who embodied Carmela Soprano, it just seems like common sense.
As Jackie, Falco sports a daringly unattractive short haircut that makes sense for her line of work. But an unfashionable 'do doesn't prevent her from removing her wedding ring before she enters the hospital and conducting a sweaty affair with the hospital pharmacist (Paul Schulze Carmela's priest from The Sopranos!). She has a bad back due to the long hours she works, which I suppose is meant to explain her addiction to painkillers, but Jackie seems to get off on the thrill of deceit nearly as much as on the pills' agony-numbing high.
Nurse Jackie is brought to you by some of the people responsible for Lisa Kudrow's great, short-lived The Comeback, as well as executive producer Caryn Mandabach, who's worked on everything from The Cosby Show to 3rd Rock From the Sun. This mixture of comedy styles combined with Nurse Jackie's half-hour format gives it the feel of a bleak sitcom that regularly veers into dramedy. Sometimes the show is too broad: I could have done without the scene in which the grumpy hospital administrator played by Anna Deavere Smith (The West Wing) accidentally ingests some of Jackie's Percocet and gets giggly-loopy.
But many other aspects of the series are handled with admirable deftness. Jackie may be a ballbusting rebel at work, but you also believe that, unfaithful or not, she really loves her husband (cuddly Dominic Fumusa) and two little daughters.
And Nurse Jackie really works as a revenge fantasy. Who among us has not wanted to see arrogant doctors cut down to size, or to have someone in our corner when we're at our most vulnerable checking into a hospital with an extreme ailment? With Falco front and center, you don't really care if Nurse Jackie gets silly, as with the patient whose cat attacked his scrotum (er, eek). You just want to keep on watching Jackie snort and snicker her way through another day and make it home with a tired smile. B+