Tuesday, June 05, 2012

As Season 4 of "Nurse Jackie" builds to a close, there's major news about Season 5 (including that there WILL BE a Season 5)


No, I'm sorry to say that can't have you a clip of Jackie (Edie Falco) dealing with 87-year-old Mrs. Zimberg, whom we may remember as the Popsicle Lady (Lynn Cohen).

"We are so thrilled with the series' performance this year, and we know that with the incomparable Edie Falco in front of the camera, the fifth season of Nurse Jackie will be even better."
-- Showtime's David Nevins, announcing Thursday that the show will
have a fifth season, run by former Dexter showrunner Clyde Phillips

by Ken

Why on earth would I be quoting a Showtime suit? Because I've been thrilled with Nurse Jackie's performance this year too, and how often am I on the same wavelength with a suit? Of course the "series' performance" that's thrilling Showtime entertainment president David Nevins is its ratings performance, and while I'm certainly glad to hear that the network is happy with the number of people watching, what I mean by performance is the quality of what they've been showing us these happy Sunday nights.

Which is how I happened to stumble across Thursday's announcement about the fifth season. Normally, as I've mentioned, I try to avoid "TV news," for fear of having show-beans spilled -- stuff about future show content that I would prefer to have unfold on-screen the way the creative team chooses to dish it out. But I just rewatched Sunday night's episode, "Chaud & Froid," and freaked out a bit at the promotional mention of "2 EPISODES LEFT." Just "2 EPISODES LEFT," not "2 EPISODES LEFT THIS SEASON." So when I decided it was time to write again about Nurse Jackie, I went trolling for news.

Naturally I was delighted to learn that the end is not nigh. At the same time I'm more than apprehensive about the previously announced departure, which of course I hadn't heard about, of co-creators (with Evan Dunsky) and co-showrunners Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius, who I assume have to take a large part of the credit for the show's careful nurturing over these four seasons. After all, what I had planned to write about was how much I've come to really love the show and how much this has to do with the brilliant care and feeding of the remarkable set of characters they created and have shepherded so faithfully and creatively, at the same time shepherding the sensational cast they assembled to play those characters.

Nurse Jackie co-creators and Season 1-4
co-showrunners Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius

And now Linda and Liz are gone.

There is, it seems, some geographical symmetry at work here. Nellie Andreeva writes for Deadline.com:
what was a major reason for Los Angeles-based Wallem and Brixius to depart Nurse Jackie -- the fact that it films in New York -- was key to getting Phillips on board. Like Wallem and Brixius, Phillips too left Dexter after four years of a cross-country commute between Connecticut, where he lives with his family, and Los Angeles, where the Showtime drama is shot. To be close to his family, he made working on East Coast-based shows a condition in his 2010 overall deal with Lionsgate TV, which co-produces Nurse Jackie with Showtime. Phillips will serve as an executive producer on Nurse Jackie alongside Falco, Richie Jackson and Caryn Mandabach. Production on Season 5 will begin in late 2012.

The second time I watched last week's episode's Popsicle scene, it occurred to me: How many creative teams could create a great dramatic scene out of a Popsicle? Meaning the one that Jackie offers 87-year-old ER patient Mrs. Zimberg (Lynn Cohen, frequent Law & Order judge Elizabeth Mizener -- and also Miranda's strange maid Magda on Sex and the City), for whom a tonsil biopsy has been ordered. I only just read in Wikipedia:
Soon after Nurse Jackie premiered, the New York State Nurses Association decried the unethical behavior of the title character, and the detrimental impression regarding nurses that such a portrayal could have on the public, stating, "In the first episode, Nurse Jackie is introduced as a substance abuser who trades sex with a pharmacist for prescription drugs ... She has no qualms about repeatedly violating the nursing Code of Ethics."
Oh, for goodness' sake! (This is, by the way, why I try hard to avoid reading stuff like this.) I suppose Patrolmen's Benevolent Associations across the country were heard from about The Wire, and possibly Drug Dealers' Assocations as well. The only reply I can think of is, "And could we hear from someone who isn't a moron?"

Consider too that we have witnessed the whole of the relationship between Jackie the veteran nurse (Edie Falco) and Zoey the newbie (Merritt Wever), to the point where the worshipful Zoey has wound up as Jackie's roommate in the wake of the latter's marital breakdown. Wasn't that an amazing scene when Zoey told Jackie that she, Zoey, needed to move out because Jackie was going to "like me less" for having breeched her privacy? And Jackie took the heroic (for her) step of sharing some of what was going on with her and asking her to stay? Meanwhile we've been with Zoey as she first acquired and then dumped a boyfriend, leading to her patented-Zoey project of now becoming "awesome exes" with Lenny.

We've also been drawn into the deep friendship between Jackie and Dr. Eleanor O'Hara (Eve Best), now coping with her single-mother pregnancy and finally, inevitably but touchingly, accepting -- however grudgingly -- the sincerely offered assistance of the not-entirely-buffoonish Dr. "Coop" Cooper (Peter Facinelli). It's been fascinating to experience the even starker change in perception of former hospital administrator Gloria Akulaitis (Anna Deavere Smith), nowhere more so than in last week's summary firing.

I really hate to leave anyone out, because everyone has been given the opportunity to make major contributions. For example, you're really reaping what you've sown when you can write such a tiny but wonderful scene as the one in which nurse Thor (Stephen Wallem) so painfully turned down O'Hara's request to accompany her to her sonogram, and she understood completely the priority of his precious Book of Mormon tickets. And how can I not mention Season 4 newcomer Bobby Cannavale, doing maybe the most interesting role I've seen him do, and doing it spectacularly, as the new hospital administrator, Dr. Mike Cruz, the hard-line apostle of order whose life is so filled with disorder. (In a charming Showtime extra he explains how his son Jake came to audition for the role of Cruz's son Charlie, with the senior Cannavale asking nothing more of the producers than that he be treated politely. He got the role of the addicted teen, and has been sensational.) In many hands Cruz might have been "the bad guy," but that's just too simple for the fascinatingly complex character that the writers created and that Bobby C has been acting.

Now I realize that however much credit Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius deserve, they didn't do it on their own, and indeed the Season 5 the team of exec producers will still includes Caryn Mandabach, Richie Jackson, and of course Edie Falco. I can't say that Clyde Phillips's credits inspire the ultimate degree of confidence. This terrific set of characters is being entrusted to the man behind such comedy triumphs as Parker Lewis and Suddenly Susan, and comedy-drama Get Real. Even Dexter he didn't join until midway through Season 1, and didn't become the showrunner until Season 4, his last as an executive producer. Still, it's worlds different creating a show as against carrying on a successfully created one. And

What can we do except hope for the best? I'm already thinking about the long wait, once the two remaining episodes of Series 4 have been shown, for the start of Season 5.

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At 7:26 PM, Blogger Jill said...

Yes, but Dexter season 4 brought us the Trinity Killer (John Lithgow) -- the most harrowing season yet. Do not despair, I think it will work out better than you think.

(God I hate the word verification Blogger is using now. That alone could get me to switch to Wordpress. No wonder my blog doesn't get comments anymore.)

At 11:46 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

I'm nowhere near despair yet, Jill, but thanks for the harkback to John Lithgow's charcter in DEXTER Season 4. Excellent point.

Thanks too for the lament about the word verification. I don't get to experience Blogger's much, but I've put in my time screaming and cursing at unreadable word verifications.



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