April 15, 2013



NURSE JACKIE:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime

NURSE JACKIE had a strong, dramatic season last year that may have been its best.  But the ratings weren’t anything to speak of (a 0.2-0.3 in 18-49s, and fewer than a million total viewers), and series co-creator/showrunners Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem left the show rather messily (from all accounts for their own reasons, not because of network interference).  Showtime seems to have taken the opportunity to remake the show in a somewhat lighter vein, bringing in former Dexter showrunner Clyde Phillips to steer the ship in a professional but–based on the Season 5 premiere–not especially gripping way.

The season premiere, written by Phillips and directed by Randall Einhorn, picks up a few months after last year’s finale.  Jackie (Edie Falco) is still sober, and still battling ex-husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) for custody of their two daughters (who are barely present in the episode).  Back at All Saints, Gloria (Anna Deveare Smith) is running things again, and by the end of the half-hour, fired hospital pharmacist (and Jackie’s former lover/drug supplier) Eddie (Paul Schulze) has–with somewhat unconvincing ease–been given his job back.  Not everything is stable, because Jackie’s BFF, new mom O’Hara (Eve Best) is threatening to leave the hospital so she can spend all her time with her baby (although Best is still listed as a series regular, so that seems unlikely to happen), and housemate/junior nurse Zoey (Merritt Wever) has decided to move out of Jackie’s house and get her own place.  There are also two new doctors in the house:  former Army medic Ike Prentiss (Morris Chestsnut) and hot but perhaps incompetent Carrie Roman (Betty Gilpin).

Although there’s the familiar trope of Jackie having some narcotics in her possession and deciding–for now, at least–not to use them, Nurse Jackie appears to be much less concerned with her addiction this season than it has been in the past.  Jackie is miserable, but due to much more standard-TV kinds of problems:  it’s the day before her birthday, and far too many people know about it, while Kevin won’t let her have the kids for the day.  Not that she lets it get her too far down.  Without breaking a sweat, she cons a pro football player who’d swallowed condoms filled with drugs after an auto accident (so as to hide them from the cops) into donating a $425K CT machine to the hospital, and it’s clear that she’s once again queen of the ward.

Phillips keeps the pace brisk, and Falco, as always, is the unerring lead of a strong ensemble, able to whip from heart-piercing sadness to crackling wit in mere seconds.  But at first glance, this version of Nurse Jackie doesn’t seem as compelling as past seasons–certainly not as much as it was in Season 4.  With her addiction under control, Jackie is just another smarter-than-the-bosses employee in a dysfunctional workplace, and that gives the series more of a network feel.  Dexter, of course, was far from conventional television, so Phillips may well have some surprises up his sleeve as the season goes on.  Right now, though, Season 5 feels like Nurse Jackie on mood-stabilizers.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."