The Three Strike Rule: “Royal Pains,” “Nurse Jackie” and “Hawthorne”

Written by Television, The Three Strike Rule

Probably because my mother was a nurse, I will always have an interest in medical shows, good or bad. An early TV addiction to St Elsewhere helped fuel that interest. With the summer upon us and cable networks bringing out their slate of shows, there are three new medical related series to make you laugh, cry and possibly inspire.

pains_500First up is USA Network’s Royal Pains, which premiered last Thursday and runs after Burn Notice. Mark Feuerstein stars in this improbably set up series about Hank Lawson, a New York surgeon who loses his job after he decides to save a sicker patient than one of the medical facilities chief benefactors. Because the dead patient has so much money and pull, Hank is blackballed and can’t find another job. Apparently the need for excellent physicians does not extend outside of New York and Hank sits around, drinking beer and watching television while the bills stack up and his supermodel-hot fiancée breaks off the engagement when it appears that he has no future. Enter his horndog brother, Evan (Paulo Costanzo), who drags him away for a weekend in the Hamptons. Evan talks them into a huge summer party hosted by a German blue blood played by Campbell Scott.

Hank happens to be in the right place at the right time when a girl collapses, vomiting. When the resident “concierge” doctor misdiagnoses her as an overdose, Hank halts him before she’s injected with medicine that could kill her. Of course, Hank saves the girl’s life. Scott’s German happen to witnesses the whole incident and is so impressed that he immediately offers him a job as the Hampton’s concierge doctor for the summer.

I should explain that a concierge doctor is the latest craze in the rich world. To keep scandals at a minimum, the wealthy prefer an on-call doctor who only caters to their needs instead of having to go to the hospital.

Hank turns down Scott’s offer, standing on some supposed moral ground. Evan, who also happens to be Hank’s accountant, is quick to point out that Hank needs the cash. By the end of the pilot, after saving a couple more lives (word travels fast in the Hamptons), Hank accepts the job and the mansion-sized “guest house” Scott has given him to live in.

I’ll admit that the setup had me rolling my eyes throughout. Yet, by the time the hour ended, I was interested to see where the story may go. The reason for this is Feuerstein. Despite the ham-fisted dialogue he was given, he portrayed the character with an earnestness that worked against all of the goofy charm Costanzo brought to his role. Yes, all of the characters are pretty stock and yes, you can see where the plot was going from the moment the story began, but for mindless summer television, Royal Pains will slip in nicely with the rest of the USA shows. My hope is that with time to develop the characters, the series will grow and not be just a one note illness of the week series. Plus, it’s nice to see Campbell Scott in anything he does. I hope that he reappears throughout the series.

nurse-jackie-edie-falco_lNext up is Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, which premieres tonight. There’s a lot of hype over this show because it’s Edie Falco’s return to television after The Sopranos. Falco plays a diligent nurse named Jackie suffering from back problems. She doesn’t reveal her injury to her superiors because it would cost her her job, so she snorts painkillers like Percocet throughout her shifts to get her through the day. Jackie isn’t afraid to speak her mind to asshole doctors like the one played by Peter Facinelli. Patients come first, but she’s also not some do-gooder that makes you want to shove your finger down your throat, either.

Jackie is a conflicted woman in a tough profession. While out to eat with Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best), one of the few physicians she tolerates, the two debate who should save the choking woman at the table next to them. Jackie decides to be the hero, but only because then Dr. O’Hara will buy dinner. Jackie is also in love with Eddie, the hospital pharmacist (Paul Schulze). The conflict in this relationship is that Jackie is married with two children, and clearly in love with her husband, too. It takes a special actress to convince us that she’s deeply in love with one man, then watch her come home, kiss her kids, look at her husband with deep felt eyes and make us still root for her. Falco is one of the best. She’s been a top-notch performer from the first time she appeared on Homicide: Life on the Streets and worked her way through Oz and then The Sopranos. Nurse Jackie is another fine accomplishment for her.

At just a half hour, Nurse Jackie moves briskly, but that just means they cut out the fat and let us focus on Jackie and her exploits. Nurse Jackie is a dark comedy that has a good blend of the comedy and drama and will be a nice compliment to Weeds. If you have Showtime, this is one to check out; otherwise you’ll have to wait like the rest of us for when it shows up on DVD.

hawthorne28Rounding out the new medical series is another show about nurses, this one on TNT called Hawthorne. The series takes its name from the title character portrayed by Jada Pinkett Smith, returning to television after years in the feature films. Hawthorne is the Chief Nursing Officer at Richmond Trinity Hospital in Richmond, VA. She is headstrong, overly dedicated, and a grieving widow with an independently minded teenage daughter (Hannah Hudson). Hawthorne is more of an ensemble drama than the other two series, and there is a fine cast in this one, including Michael Vartan as the chief of surgery, Suleka Mathew (Men in Trees) as Bobbie, a fellow nurse and Hawthorne’s best friend, David Julian Hirsh as Ray, a nurse struggling with his career choice (he wanted to be a doctor), Christina Moore as the resident hot nurse (every hospital has one of those, right?) and Vanessa Lengies as Kelly, a young nurse often overwhelmed by everything.

Hawthorne is closest to the medical dramas we’ve all come to know ever since ER became a runaway success. There are plenty of steadicam shots, lots of overly dramatic music, and characters who all CARE so much it hurts. Based on the pilot, in which Hawthorne deals with the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death while juggling her daughter’s possible school suspension, a patient nearly dying after a nurse follows doctor’s orders, and a homeless woman presenting a newborn and Hawthorne rushing the infant to the ER, this show will have legs. It has just the right blend of high drama and light moments that should make it a hit for TNT, a network that seems to know how to connect with female viewers (see The Closer and Saving Grace). Hawthorne is also one of the few shows with ethnic diversity. With Pinkett Smith one of the show’s producers, I imagine that she had a lot to do with that. Good. The script for the pilot got a little too treacle in moments, but maybe I’m just a little jaded from having seen to many medical shows. I liked the fresh perspective of seeing the hospital world almost entirely from the female nurses perspective. In a medium that is dominated by male-centric shows, it was also pleasurable to watch something that was almost all women and a variety of characters. Hawthorne premieres on Tuesday, June 16th.