Nurse Jackie is out. Free from rehab. Sure it’s supposed to take 28 days, but this is Jackie we’re talking about. She manages to speed through steps four through eight all in one night with the help of a handful of old pens, a bowl of Good and Plenties, and a surprisingly accommodating orderly. It has only been two weeks, both in the show and for us the audience, but Jackie is checking herself out, against the better judgment of everyone in her group therapy and medical advice. Jackie’s counselor Laura warns her about the outside world. She’s been in an incubator for the last 16 days. Outside the air is going to burn her skin. Jackie isn’t worried. She can handle whatever sobriety can throw at her. She is Nurse Jackie for goodness sake.
Jackie’s motivation for leaving is a little suspect. She claims it is all about being back with Grace. Last week, Green Hair Charlie got Jackie to admit that she first started using drugs after Grace was born and Jackie couldn’t handle her constant crying. Jackie told the group she realized she needed to get out when Grace stopped by, raccooned with eye-liner. Though she described it as seeing her daughter with two black eyes. A bit overdramatic. Makes me wonder if Jackie really is running to her daughter or running away from the uncomfortable truths rehab is bringing out of her.
Many times in the past, "Nurse Jackie" seemed like two different shows. There was the heavy, dark storylines about Jackie dealing with her addiction and the havoc it caused in everyone’s life around her, and then there were the goofy, light-side stories about Zoey flirting with Lenny or Coop upset that his lesbian moms were getting a divorce. The problem is when you get an actor as commanding as Edie Falco doing your dark side, the light side can get overshadowed. The whimsical antics of the other nurses becomes trivial after watching Jackie smash her finger with a hammer to cover up that she had to cut off her wedding ring.
I wrote last week how Season Four feels like a turning point for "Nurse Jackie." She was finally facing accountability for her actions instead of slipping free of blame like she had so many times before. This week, "Nurse Jackie" continues on that path, giving the side characters in Jackie’s life major changes themselves. Everyone on "Nurse Jackie" is becoming as interesting as Nurse Jackie.
I have been tracking "Nurse Jackie" for the last three years, and as much as I enjoy the antics at All Saints Hospital, I’ve always had one complaint. No one ever held Jackie accountable for her actions. Can’t really blame them. Jackie is an expert liar. None of her coworkers or family members ever got the complete story, and when they did, Jackie had an uncanny luck. Akalitus would toss out Jackie’s urine test in defiance of her bosses or Jackie would turn an intervention back around on her husband and Dr. O’Hara. In three seasons, Jackie never met a situation she couldn’t manipulate. She never had to truly deal with the consequences of her actions. Until now.
Season Four starts with Jackie checking into rehab. As she’s checked in, Jackie gets the TSA treatment and the standard spell. From this point forward, she is accountable. For the next 28 days, she won’t be able to blame missing medication on temp nurses or sneak into the basement for the pills she hid in their Easter decorations. This new-found accountability marks a significant shift in the show, and hopefully it will bring with it a brilliant second act for the series.
Adultery is nothing new on television, but the proliferation of cheating as a plot point is making prime-time TV look like an ad for Ashley Madison, the online dating service for married folks, where the message is, "Life is short. Have an affair."
On "Homeland," the Iraq War hero turned secret terrorist falls into a reckless affair. Central characters on "The Good Wife," "Revenge," "Boss," "Ringer," "Nurse Jackie," "Justified" and even "The Walking Dead" engage in infidelity.
Cynicism about marriage is one of the factors leading to an increased depiction of adultery. "People believe marriages don't work anyway, so seeing affairs on TV kind of serves as a model for how things can and will go bad," said Julie Albright, a sociologist at USC.
But showrunners insisted they don't treat the topic lightly. Liz Brixius, creator of "Nurse Jackie," said of her cheating heroine: "We've never used cheating to be juicy. We use it to show Jackie's living a double life and making terrible decisions."
Brixius and her team had to assure Showtime and producer Lionsgate that Jackie would, indeed, get her comeuppance in the new season this spring. "It was not an easy sell for us to have Jackie continue to skate by without suffering for what she'd done."
There's more on TV adultery in this feature.
Edie Falco, nominated at the Emmy Awards for lead actress in a comedy series for Showtime's "Nurse Jackie," seemed relaxed about the impending telecast only moments before airtime. The fourth season of the series hasn't begun shooting yet, she said, and being at the ceremony gave her an opportunity to see her colleagues in advance of filming. "I miss my friends and I'm excited to see them."
Falco said she wasn't rooting for any other programs, since most of the ones she watches "aren't gonna be here tonight," she smiled. Indeed, cast members from Falco's admitted favorite shows -- "The First 48" and "Househunters International" -- were nowhere to be found on the red carpet.
-- Yvonne Villarreal
Photo: Edie Falco. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.
"Dexter," "The Borgias," "Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie" are among the popular Showtime series that revolve around high concepts of serial killers, corrupt royalty, pot-selling soccer moms and pill-popping nurses. But upcoming series on the premium cable network will be more grounded in the so-called real world.
Showtime's president of entertainment, David Nevins, said the network is gradually evolving into a renewed sensibility with series such as "Homeland," about a former prisoner of war who may or may not be a terrorist, and "House of Lies," about a self-loathing management consultant.
"We're getting into shows that have scope and bigness and are relevant to the world we live in," Nevins said. "We believe in real diversity of programming. We will be sophisticated and adult but can also be bigger and edgy."
"Homeland," which stars Claire Danes and Damian Harris, will premiere in October, while "House of Lies," which stars Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, is scheduled to premiere Jan. 8.
Upcoming on the Showtime schedule is "Laughing Stock," a new series that will feature interviews with top comedians as they explain their art and the state of comedy. Steve Carell ("The Office") and David Steinberg ("Sit Down Comedy With David Steinberg") are executive producers, and Chris Rock, Tina Fey and Ellen Degeneres wil be among the comedians participating.
Nevins said he was also proud of Showtime's reliance on its veteran slate, which he categorized as "renewable resources" that keep growing in creativity, attracting bigger audiences.
-- Greg Braxton
Photo: Josh Lawson, Kristen Bell, Jeannie Van de Hooven, Don Cheadle, Dawn Olivieri and Ben Schwartz of "House of LIes." Photo credit: Showtime.
It's been a half-century since the hopes of a television network were pinned to one "lovable redhead," comedian Joel McHale said. Lucille Ball once propelled the fortunes of CBS, and now NBC is banking on Bob Greenblatt to be its modern-day savior.
Monday was Greenblatt's coming-out party at the Television Critics Assn. summer 2011 press tour. The last time this group of writers met, in mid-January, was during the waning days of the previous administration -- a decade-long period punctuated by NBC executives who made big promises -- but failed to deliver as NBC slipped farther behind in the ratings.
Greenblatt's performance Monday was, perhaps purposely, understated.
"It's been a very challenging six months for us," Greenblatt, the recently installed chairman of NBC Entertainment, told about 150 writers clustered in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. "It's no secret that NBC is in fourth place and we are working very hard, and very aggressively, to turn that around."
Repopulating NBC's executive ranks has been one of Greenblatt's primary assignments. Last month, the former Showtime programming head hired Jennifer Salke, a respected executive from Fox, to be his chief deputy as the new NBC Entertainment president. Greenblatt also recruited his press chief from Showtime, Richard Licata, to run NBC's communications.
Monday, Greenblatt announced that he had hired an accomplished CBS executive, Bela Bajaria, to help him oversee the company's television production studio, a unit that was gutted to save money when General Electric Co. owned the media company.
About five years ago, the Universal television studio was busy cranking out such hits as "Law & Order," "The Office," "House," and "Heroes."
However, in the last three years, Universal Media Studios has been a bit of a shell with a tiny staff that primarily serviced shows for NBC. Big-name producers bypassed the operation, instead preferring to do business with the more prominent Warner Bros. Television, Sony Pictures Television or 20th Century Fox Television.
"To me, that's not the place to save money," Steve Burke, chief executive of NBCUniversal, said after Greenblatt's session. "Hopefully people will know that is the place to go with good ideas."
Comcast Corp., which took control of NBCUniversal in late January, has identified NBC as its top priority and the unit desperate for a dramatic overhaul. Greenblatt, one of Burke's first hires, opened NBC's session by saying that he has spent the last six months convincing his new boss to raise NBC's debt ceiling -- something of a joke because Burke has said Comcast was more than willing to write big checks to buy quality projects and attract big names to NBC.
Greenblatt said the studio had signed development deals with several notable producers, including Greg Daniels who developed "The Office" for NBC and "Parks and Recreation." Greenblatt said he wanted Daniels, who made his fortunes with the cartoon comedy "King of the Hill," to experiment with animation.
The NBC studio also signed a development deal with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions Television. Greenblatt said he is hoping to launch a comedy starring Sean Hayes of "Will & Grace" fame.
Greenblatt acknowledged that his challenge will be to find hits that appeal to broad audiences. That wasn't his concern at Showtime. The premium channel has thrived on the offbeat and often dark "Dexter," "Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie," programs with small audiences that would not necessarily pull the freight on a broadcast network.
"I certainly don't want to turn NBC into Showtime but I would love to bring to NBC some of the creative vitality that we had at Showtime," Greenblatt said. "Broadcast is more difficult. We just have to do it in a way that's really broad and commercial."
Burke was sitting in the wings during the session. How did he grade Greenblatt's performance?
"Great," Burke said. "He's got a nice quiet way about himself and he doesn't over-promise."
-- Meg James
Photo: Bob Greenblatt. Credit: Carolyn Cole
"Nurse Jackie" has always been about the sweet tease. Jackie deserves to be caught and punished. She’s done some horrible things over the past three seasons: had an affair with the pharmacist supplying her with pills, spending money set aside for her daughters’ education, stolen meds from a stranger having a seizure and her own daughter. The list goes on and on, but the sweet tease of ‘Nurse Jackie’ is how close Jackie comes to getting caught before slipping away.
Back in Seasons 1 and 2, it drove me crazy. Jackie constantly evaded any sort of comeuppance with little or no effort. She’d just stare down Sam or yell at a school nurse, and any accusation would simply vanish. In Season 3, Jackie had to work a lot more to get out of the messes she created. She’d weave lies or pull out the perfect AA quote she heard earlier in the day. We could see how much effort goes into hiding her addiction from the world. Now, as the third, and in my opinion best, season of ‘Nurse Jackie’ comes to a close, Jackie gets a few more of those magical reprieves, but it feels like she’s earned them.
What does Kevin know? What unspoken expletive is hanging there, making him drag Eddie out of bed at 6:30 in the morning to take batting practice? He's asking Eddie questions about seeing Jackie every day at work, or talking about how he can't look at her anymore. Meanwhile, he's hitting the balls like they offended him personally. It all builds to Kevin telling Eddie, "You gotta know what I’m talking about," and Eddie faking ignorance. Then, the silence. Kevin simply stares Eddie down as the machine keeps spitting out balls, until Kevin steps back up to the plate and hits one hard enough to break his bat.
"Nurse Jackie" is like two different shows. Or one show with multiple personalities. Half the time we get moments like batting practice. Scary, dark, deep moments. This also happens to be the half of the show where the actual Nurse Jackie spends most of her time. The other half of the show is like Akalitus with the fat kids. Goofy, quirky moments. Two entirely different tones existing in the same show. A Jekyll-and-Hyde composite that balances a woman stealing her daughter's education money to buy OxyContin with a guy who pouts in a boat when he finds out his moms are getting divorced.
It must be tough acting in a show with Edie Falco. I know it must be amazing at the same time. She’s an incredible actress. She becomes Nurse Jackie. I’m a grown man who writes about television, and I sometimes catch myself thinking Jackie Peyton’s a real person. That’s good acting. I say it must be tough because you have to put in a pretty impressive performance in order to shine.
Tonight, Eve Best got her chance to shine. Not an easy task, mind you. There were bombshells falling all around Jackie tonight, giving Falco plenty of opportunities to show off her acting chops, but I think Best stole the show with her reaction when Jackie accused her of going to HR. It was one of those moments that you always want from a character, and Eve Best nailed it. She swaggered through the second half of the episode. Why not? She owned it.
Last week, her supply of little blue pills was on its last legs. After rationing out her final few pills over her shift, Jackie ran out to meet her dealer/case worker Bill, only to see him be hit by a truck. Kapow. All her hopes of getting a fix smeared across the asphalt.
Now, Jackie’s completely tapped out. For the first time since we met her two seasons ago, she is completely without a source of illegal narcotics. When Jackie’s high, she is a laser beam of manipulation. Very clean, very effective. When she’s sober, Jackie’s so desperate to get a fix, she fires randomly and misses a lot of the dangers sneaking up on her.
The premium cable network has canceled "United States of Tara." Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Diablo Cody, the show followed suburban mom Tara as she tried to make her marriage work and raise a family while contending with multiple male, female, young and old personalities.
Toni Collette, who played Tara during the show's three seasons, won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the role. Though it generated a solid amount of buzz at its launch, the show never really caught on with sizable numbers of viewers. The dark dramedy drew about 1.9 million fans between live and time-shifted viewing. Ratings had been dropping -- they're 30% lower this season than last -- and didn't look poised for a turnaround.
Its season finale, scheduled for June 20, will also serve as the series finale.
"Nurse Jackie" -- which the network has renewed for a fourth season, along with a previously announced second season of "The Borgias" -- has been pulling in an average of 2.8 million viewers in its current third season. (Much of the viewing happens via Showtime On Demand or DVR replays through the week.)
Edie Falco, an Emmy winner from "The Sopranos," also won an Emmy for "Nurse Jackie," in the comedy category, after which she famously said in her acceptance speech, "I'm not funny!"
The series, from executive producers Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem, also stars Anna Deveare Smith, Peter Facinelli, Eve Best and Merritt Wever.
-- T.L. Stanley
Photo: Toni Collette in "United States of Tara." Credit: Jordin Althaus / Showtime