Review: 'Nurse Jackie' doesn't go for the big laughs

2013-04-21T18:00:00Z Review: 'Nurse Jackie' doesn't go for the big laughsBRUCE MILLER Sioux City Journal

Good news: Nurse Jackie is trying to live a clean life.

Bad news: Drugs could return.

That's the update we get from the first episodes of "Nurse Jackie."

Now in its fifth season, the dark comedy (and dark is the operative word) shows how the uber-organized nurse (played with usual gusto by Edie Falco) is dealing with the temptations of prescription drugs. She's back at work, barking orders better than a doctor and dealing with a host of patients. In the first two episodes, she faces patients from a bus accident, a cocky entertainer and a new ER leader.

Even worse? Jackie's got a birthday and all she wants is custody of her kids.

Roll it all together, film it at breakneck pace and you get a series that covers a lot of territory in 30 minutes but doesn't really leave you laughing on the floor. Like "The C Word," "Nurse Jackie" traffics in irony, not guffaws. The humor is largely occupational; smiles come from recognition.

Most won't be able to embrace something this prickly, even now. Largely, that could be because it never really puts Jackie's addiction in a back pocket. It's like Sam Malone trying to be a bartender. "Cheers," however, never dwelt on his alcoholism. It was just there. "Nurse Jackie" needs to take a similar approach -- particularly now -- to her drug addiction.

In the opener, one doctor exits, another enters. The new ER leader (played by a gruff Morris Chesnut) suffers no one but could become a key ally.

And then? Then there's a first-year resident (Betty Gilpin) who uses sex to get others to do her work. She's pretty one-note but there's room for improvement.

The 2013 mix is interesting -- particularly for a five-year-old show. It's a modern-day "MASH," a 21st century "Hospital." But there's her addiction that shrouds much of the humor.

Falco is such a nuanced actress she could elicit tears from a blank script.

Anna Deavere Smith (as her boss) provides some challenge but most of the other actors are pushovers. Chestnut's addition could give her the resistance she needs.

Like most cable comedies, "Nurse Jackie" is a welcome shift from the norm. It doesn't tell stories we see on most sitcoms. But it also doesn't feel a need to make us laugh.

Sometimes, that's the best medicine. And, early on this year, it's dished out in very small doses.

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