The last two seasons of Nurse Jackie increasingly strained credibility as its put-upon title character, Jackie Peyton, tried to balance problems with her husband, daughters and job all while desperately trying to cover up a controlling pill addiction and affair with the pharmacist who supplied her. It was a high wire act that show creators Liz Brixius, Evan Dunsky, Linda Wallem could identify with, having created a serial comedy that constantly defies the standard conventions of the genre.
In its fourth season, which begins this Sunday night on Showtime, Brixius, Dunsky and Wallem have made great creative jumps that have found new footing for the show and its (anti-)heroine, played by the indomitable Edie Falco. Without, giving too much away, the show has moved beyond the web of lies in which it used to languish. Without giving too much away, Jackie is now more accountable and takes more action as well, particularly when it comes to estranged husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and a new boss at All Saints’ Hospital, Dr. Miguel Cruz (special guest star Bobby Cannavale).
In fact, most of the action this season takes place in the hospital setting. Cruz forces erstwhile administrator Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) back to the floor as a nurse, letting her show new colors when on the other side of the scrubs. Paul Schulze’s role as pharmacist Eddie is likewise enhanced, though Gbenga Akinnagabe ’s and Peter Facinelli’s characters feel diminished. Series MVPs Eve Best and Merritt Wever also shine as their characters face new life decisions. Jackie’s New York filming location also means the inclusion of talented guest stars like Joel Grey, Rosie Perez, Lynn Cohen, The Book of Mormon’s Rory O’Malley and sterling writing talent like Ellen Fairey and Rajiv Joseph.
Most of all, it’s Falco’s gravitas that keeps this show afloat. The show never overdoes Jackie’s drug addiction, always erring on the side of earned sympathy and credibility. The actress outdoes herself, particularly in Jackie’s developing push-pull relationship with Cruz (a strong Cannavale). Jackie is a show steeped in character first, and with performances this organic, that will prevent even the most pedestrian situation from feel rote. The strength, and daring, of Jackie has always been how it pushes the boundaries of comedy, both structurally and humorously. It isn’t funny, per se; in fact, the funniest lines are usually given the driest delivery and usually come from the most wince-inducing of emotional places for their characters.
So check back in with Nurse Jackie – there are plenty of signs of life here.
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