Nurse Jackie: Waiting for Comedy

Episode 7, Steak knife

Given that Beckett could make great drama out of a set up where nothing happens (twice) and thereby revolutionise 20th Century theatre, maybe Nurse Jackie can do the same for TV comedy. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t not enjoy it. It was compelling – it just wasn’t comedic. Correction.  It had one great moment of comedy – like the diamond on the otherwise apparently subfusc bracelet gift from boyfriend Eddie:  the scene when Nurse Jackie’s trainee nurse is bored just staunching a wound and is sorely tempted to remove the knife from the comatose stab victim (Nurse Jackie explains ‘We don’t remove foreign objects that are protruding from the patient – that is the surgeon’s job’).

Otherwise, this was all about relationships – a complex web of relationships to be sure. But not relationships as a foil for comedy. Relationships as a foil for relationships. Perhaps the most intriguing was Nurse Jackie’s relationship with comic possibility. Maybe I’d misread (or imagined) all the pre-Nurse Jackie hype, and this was the first episode I had seen, but I was expecting her to be a smart-talking, wise-cracking, no nonsense, pill-popping … you get the picture.

But in the face of comic opportunity, she was most often compellingly silent or calmly compassionate. Lots of set-ups, no punchlines.  Example. Mrs Akilitus, the administrator – who has seemingly made a brave career switch from being White House Security Adviser (and I would have bet big on Obama keeping her on) – spends most of the episode carrying round an abandoned baby seeking its parents. Lines ready for Nurse Jackie?  Zip.  She simply spots and casually removes a paperclip from its nose.

The Estragon to her Vladimir here turns out to be an English doctor who is happily awash with booze and pills, which Nurse Jackie again watches with benign passivity. A supportive friend listening to her troubles and putting her up in her apartment for the night.

And the arc of the other threads all seem designed…

to show her caring and thoughtful interventions. The psychotic ranting man she tackles not through sassy backchat, but by insightful words. The stab victim whom she plies with extra morphine and sets up with a bracelet so he is nice to his interrupted first date with low self-worth (since it was his date’s ex-husband that had stabbed him).

It could have been schmaltzy and obvious – in fact it veered that way – but just clung on to the right side. And it stayed there thanks to Edie Falco. Edie Falco does troubled, distressed, tired and flat more convincingly than anyone since ? well since she did the same with Carmela. But all this was not funny. I come back to my opening observation. I came for comedy and left a convert to Nurse Jackie as anti-comedy comedy drama.

Of course, I may well have misread all this. It may be that I just saw the “episode where Nurse Jackie is off the meds and we make it all as flat as a pancake” as the writers probably referred to it. I suppose maybe, after watching Nurse Jackie, I can now better relate to the audiences at the first performances of Godot or the Rite of Spring.  Like me, those bourgeois audiences were confused and baffled by how the modern development of an art form could seemingly eschew the very quality (“drama”, “music”, “comedy”) which they seemingly set out to embody.

Hey ho. It’s too much for one man.

Posted by arialbold

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