On TV: HawthoRNe
Nurses know more than doctors, have a tremendous gift of empathy, break rules to save lives and don't get enough respect. I get it. I really do. While nurses in the real world rarely receive the props they deserve, TV nurses like Carol Hathaway (ER) or Carla Espinosa (Scrubs) demonstrated that a nurse can toil away in the land of MD's, receive little credit and lots of blame, and still look good doing it. Sure, it took a couple decades to undo the damage done to the profession's image on film by Louise Fletcher's devastating portrayal of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but the regard for nurses is high enough that Showtime produced Nurse Jackie to play off that saint-in-scrubs image. With cable television moving deliberately in the direction of more complicated female roles, TNT's new nurse-hero drama HawthoRNe feels anachronistic and miscalculated. Jada Pinkett Smith is long overdue for a star vehicle, it just seems like she should have bought a newer model.
We meet Christina Hawthorne (Pinkett Smith) mid-insomnia, talking to her dead husband and stating for the first of many, many times that today is the one year anniversary of his death. When a suicidal patient calls Christina from the roof of the hospital, Christina rushes to the rescue, unkempt bed hair and all. After Christina parks in the red zone and forgets her ID, she has to outfox a security guard, despite the fact that as the Chief Nursing Officer of the hospital she is extremely important. But her patient - also a friend of her dead husband, it's been a year since he died, BTW - trumps any concerns about basic security protocol. It's clear from this teaser that Christina will go the extra mile for the patients, the rules of the hospital be damned.
Sadly, at the end of the hour, the episode has not progressed much beyond the dead husband and the hospital-rules-are-made-for-breaking ethic. Christina's ex-mother-in-law and hospital board member Amanda (Joanna Cassidy) shows up at the hospital and wants Christina to hand over custody of her son's ashes for the next year. Christina's daughter Camille (Hannah Hodson) chains herself to a vending machine at school and acts out the way a teen girl with a dead dad should. Stein (David Julian Hirsh), one of Christina's nurse underlings, gives a patient the wrong dosage of insulin because the doctor ordered it incorrectly, even though he should have trusted his gut. There is also a nurse with a prosthetic limb who calls herself "damaged goods" and a bipolar homeless woman with a baby and, finally, Michael Vartan given very little to do as Dr. Wakefield, the Chief of Surgery. Of course, Hawthorne and Wakefield have a fleeting moment of potential chemistry, but, as you may remember, her husband is dead. As of one year ago today.
If you invented a drinking game where you take a shot every time a HawthoRNe character says something faux-meaningful ("It's you and her against the system." "There's no right way to grieve." "Pretty girls don't have to buy their own pot.") you would be blacked out by the end of the third act. This is a supposed to be a drama, but the jokes to undercut the tension do not work (there are at least two involving bowel movements) and the heavy lines drag the characters down. Pinkett Smith brings an extraordinary amount of energy to the role, but the Hawthorne character is such a straight arrow that there is never a question of what she will do when confronted with a problem. The other nurses are much more interesting to watch because they express motivations other than confidence and give manual pleasure to patients and generally behave like humans I might know.
The uncomplicated protagonist-driven drama might make a resurgence in the future, but at this ironic-cynical moment in time (and especially on TNT, home of The Closer and Saving Grace) the hopeful, straight-faced sentimentality of a nurse-crusader feels very 1990's (or maybe 1950's). Some fallibility or weakness will work its way into Hawthorne before long, but that might not be enough to keep this character arc from flatlining. Rating (out of 10): 5.