On TV: Mercy
Fun Fact about network medical dramas: We apparently need more of them! Did you know? I didn't, but NBC had an inkling and will premiere its new nurse-focused hospital show Mercy tonight. A majority of critics have noted how Mercy pales in comparison to Showtime's compelling Nurse Jackie, but the only real problems with this watchable melodrama are its complacency with piling on cliches (prepare thy jazz-hands for... a defibrillator mishap!) and its shameless retooling of Grey's Anatomy characters as homogenized, dysfunctional romantics.
Mercy stars Taylor Schilling as Veronica Callahan, a traumatized Iraq War vet who frequently suffers flashbacks while the audience suffers her medical advice like, "We used this on the front lines!" But you're not supposed to dislike her, because she's up against every odious doctor in sight barking something about "stupid nurses" and how they just want to play canasta, shop online, weep in their bedrooms to the lyrics of Pink, throw birds at Michael Jackson's funeral, attend rainbow parties with the head of surgery, etc. I'd deem both sides of the doctor-nurse crossfire ridiculous, except that Schilling is actually quite good as our embattled protagonist. Her harried edginess doesn't dazzle the way Nurse Jackie's does, but Schilling's line delivery is convincing and her character's tough past is believably exhibited. She's funny too, giving her one up on Ellen Pompeo.
The rest of the cast doesn't fare as well. For instance, I am filled with delirious hatred for new nurse Chloe: Played by Michelle Trachtenberg as the Innocent, Lip-Biting Novice With a Gulping Problem, this character is so stock and contrived that it's as though the show had turned into vaudeville. She wears a Hello Kitty nursing blouse and accidentally knocks a full bedpan onto her chest, a stock occurrence which is seriously a prop away from a zany seltzer-water routine accompanied by silly trumpets. Jamie Lee Kirchner as the tough, workhorse-y Sonia Jimenez is not a hell of a lot better (I call her "Sandra NO"), but her character isn't as cloying or predictable, so I will not declare her Dead To Me Like You, Chloe.
Add to that a makeshift McSteamy (Veronica's makeout partner Dr. Chris Sands, played by James Tupper), Veronica's foolish fiance Mike (Diego Klattenhoff), and every Central Casting "Brave Cancer Patient" walk-on actor, and we have what seems, in theory, like an abysmal hour of television. I don't think it is. Veronica's deadpan is justified and ingratiating, and her slight alcoholism, romantic stupidity, and occasional insights flesh her out and make her surprisingly whole. The other busybodies must work to achieve the same level of characterization, but if Nurse Jackie ever runs repeat episodes, you might like what you find in Mercy's clipboard-decked corridors.
Movieline Score: 7 (out of 10)