Nurse Jackie

Edie Falco’s nurse with a heart of gold is really a bit of a prig, writes Rachel Cooke

Nurse Jackie


It goes without saying that, in one way, it is great to see Edie Falco carrying Nurse Jackie (from 4 January, 10pm), a series that is basically built around her. Falco is over 45, and she has the lines to prove it. If this woman uses Botox, then I'm Teri Hatcher. Nor is she exactly what you'd describe as beautiful. Her face is expressive, but also hard, even a little mean. In her horrible hospital uniform and her cheap hoop earrings, she reminds me of a dinner lady I knew at primary school who would force me to eat spam fritters even though: a) I was the least fussy child it is possible to imagine and b) they made me throw up all over my new Start-rite shoes.

But still . . . if only the girl could have found herself a better vehicle than this. Nurse Jackie is awful - unfunny, sentimental and kind of gross. Just to make sure of this (in the US, the series is a critical and commercial hit), I watched the second episode as well as the first (the BBC sent me three DVDs, the last of which, I'm afraid, will remain for ever in its plastic sleeve).

In show two, the officious, uptight hospital manager, Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), accidentally downed some of Nurse Jackie's illicit Percodan thinking that it was sweetener, a mistake which resulted in - surprise! - a dramatic change in her personality. Five minutes later, and she was practically wearing her knickers on her head.

My hunch is that a series that falls back on this kind of physical comedy so early on is running on empty, just like its lead character, who snorts Vicodin and Adderall to get through her shift - and if I'm wrong, I'll watch all 42 series of Desperate Housewives back-to-back while eating spam fritters. That's a promise.

Nurse Jackie Peyton, who works in the emergency room at All Saints' Hospital, New York, is sharp-elbowed and sharp-tongued, bitchy, sceptical, randy, unfaithful, and rather keen on prescription drugs, which she gets from the hospital pharmacist with whom she's having an affair (they have sex in the drug cupboard, when her backache allows). She is a good, efficient, cool-headed nurse, but she is also a rule-breaker, blithely signing the organ donor card of a recently deceased bicycle messenger so that his kidneys and other bits do not go to waste.

Unfortunately, none of these edgy qualities - I'm guessing they're supposed to make us like her - cancels out her horrible self-righteousness. My God, she's a prig. In episode one, she flushes a man's severed ear down the lavatory because she has discovered that, even though he has
attacked another of her patients, he cannot be prosecuted because he's a foreign diplomat (he is also Libyan, which adds a further dubious layer to this sanctimony). And apparently it's fine for Jackie to steal from her colleagues, so long as the cash - and the Ugg boots - are going to some worthy person, such as the pregnant girlfriend of the dead bicycle messenger. Yes, she's Robin Hood in scrubs.

So who's in her band of merry men? Well, there's the spoony pharmacist, Eddie (Paul Schulze), and the obligatory gay pal, in this case a male nurse called Mo-Mo (Haaz Sleiman). Plus, more bizarrely, a British doctor, Eleanor O'Hara, played by our very own Eve Best. Dr O'Hara wears Manolo Blahniks on the ward, and finds dry-cleaning such a bore that she simply chucks out smelly clothes. She and Jackie take their lunch breaks together, but not for them the soggy subs of the hospital canteen. Instead, they head out to swanky restaurants, where they discuss the awfulness of the rookie male doctors (Dr O'Hara pays).

At first, I thought that she and Jackie were going to turn out to be lesbians. I was quite excited. But then I remembered: this is an American series, the kind that gets its own giant posters on the side of New York City buses. Sure enough, moments later, we saw Jackie returning home to her drippy husband and her adorably cute daughters. Yes, she's edgy. But she's not that edgy.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Obama: the year of living dangerously