HTF Blu-ray Review: NURSE JACKIE Season 1

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Michael Reuben, Feb 21, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Nurse Jackie Season 1 (Blu-ray)


    Studio: Lionsgate
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 335 min.
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: AVC
    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
    Subtitles: English; English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $39.99
    Disc Format: 2 50 GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Original Airdates: June 8-Aug. 24, 2009
    Blu-ray Release Date: Feb. 23, 2010



    Introduction:

    If you’re already interested in Nurse Jackie, stop now. The Blu-ray is great, but the less you know, the better. If you continue from here, you have only yourself to blame.



    The Feature:

    Nurse Jackie is the Showtime series that Edie Falco chose to wipe away the memory of Carmela Soprano, who was the kind of character so iconic that it can permanently overshadow the rest of an actor’s career. Carmela was memorable and complicated, but she’s a walk in the park compared to Jackie Peyton, an ER nurse at the fictional All Saints Hospital in Manhattan.

    What makes Jackie so complicated? Watch the show.

    I wasn’t sure I’d be able to watch Nurse Jackie, because I’ve never been able to abide any show set in a hospital, no matter how well-written or how compelling the characters. St. Elsewhere, E.R., Grey’s Anatomy and House have seen me reach for the remote (or delete the Season Pass, as the case may be) . But as I sat watching the initial broadcast of Nurse Jackie’s pilot, after carefully avoiding reading anything about the show, my eyes kept widening and my jaw kept dropping further than I thought possible, and that was it. I was hooked.

    Want to know why? Watch the show.

    If you keep reading this review – and certainly if you read anything published elsewhere – you will learn things you’d rather discover as a viewer. Last chance.

    The ER at All Saints is on the front line of an overburdened and crumbling health care system, and nurses like Jackie Peyton are its shock troops. Every manner of problem comes through the door. Many of them are heart-rending, and the resources to deal with them are almost always insufficient – a fact that never deters the hospital administrator, the iron-jawed Mrs. Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), from sailing through her domain, every inch of her statuesque frame alert for a bed that can be emptied for the next item on the assembly line. Jackie is a Catholic, but she doesn’t see a lot of miracles. A patient who comes into her ER with grievous injuries is just as likely to die as in real life.

    In this world, nurses are the healers. Doctors perform essential services, but they’re lousy with people. The new kid on the block, Dr. “Fitch” Cooper (Peter Facinelli), dances through the ER chortling when he gets a gunshot victim, because those cases are cool. “Coop”, as he likes to be called, has other quirks that are best left to be discovered by the viewer, but he’s typical of the show’s attitude toward doctors: skilled but detached. As Jackie says to her friend, the formidably British Dr. Eleanor O’Hara (played by the formidably British actress, Eve Best): “What do you doctors have against healing people, for Christ's sake?” Dr. O’Hara’s answer sums up the show’s ethic:




    Not that Jackie’s a sweetheart – far from it. Some patients piss her off, and she’s not above dispensing her own form of rough justice. She’s tough as hell on Zoey (Merritt Wever), her congenitally chirpy apprentice. A typical exchange goes like this:


    Zoey: Sure.
    Jackie: Shut up.
    Zoey: Is that a question?
    Jackie: I don't like chatty, okay? I don't do chatty. I like quiet. Quiet and mean, those are my people.





    More than anything, what distinguishes Jackie from the people around her is that she keeps trying, and for all the professional distance she struggles to maintain between herself and the endless throng pouring through the doors of All Saints, some part of her still cares. “The fact that you have even the slightest inclination to help people puts you miles ahead of 100 percent of the population”, she tells Zoey. It might as well be her motto.

    But Jackie is not a saint. She doesn’t even aspire to be one. If she did, the saint she’d like to be is St. Augustine, who, in Jackie’s rendition, prayed: “Make me good, God, but not yet.” Which is appropriate, because Jackie is a drug addict.

    Of all the secrets that Jackie keeps (and there are a lot), her addiction is the only one she never shares with anyone except the audience. Jackie can’t make it through the day without a generous helping of Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax or other downers, ingested or snorted, and, as is often the case with addicts, a significant portion of Jackie’s energy is devoted to securing, secreting and administering her daily dosage. In this regard, it helps that she has an ongoing affair with All Saints’ resident pharmacist, Eddie (Paul Schulze), who is always willing to slip her a few extra pills for “back pain” (which she really does have). A question that hangs over the entire first season of Nurse Jackie is exactly what Jackie feels for Eddie. Does she care for him? Is she just using him to get drugs? There are times when Eddie wonders, and part of the brilliance of Falco’s performance is that she leaves you wondering whether even Jackie knows.

    It gets even trickier when the hospital announces its plan to replace Eddie with an automated pharmaceutical dispensary that will rigorously track every pill, but to see how that plays out, you’ll have to watch the show.

    Jackie has an entire life outside All Saints, and I’ve deliberately omitted discussing it. Read anything else about Nurse Jackie, and you’ll learn things that will diminish your viewing experience. Jackie’s outside life adds untold layers of complexity, emotional heft and sheer weirdness to a show that already had plenty to start with. It’s a big part of what makes the series unique and Jackie Peyton unforgettable.

    Want to know why? Watch the show.



    Video:

    Nurse Jackie was shot on high-definition video and is presented on Blu-ray in its original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1. The Blu-ray image is excellent and improves on the hi-def broadcast image I first saw on Time Warner cable. The image is bright and detailed, with strong contrast throughout. There are no dark scenes in Nurse Jackie; even outdoor scenes at night have the perpetually illuminated appearance that is peculiar to big city living. The bright white background of the wonderful title sequence that opens every episode following the pilot is clean and intense. Detail both inside and outside the hospital is finely resolved, and there is little or no video noise. I can imagine that someone might take issue with the photographic style of Nurse Jackie (taste being a personal matter), but I can’t imagine anyone having an issue with the presentation on Blu-ray.


    Audio:

    I’m not sure why the soundtrack is formatted for 7.1 instead of 5.1, because the mix does not have an especially elaborate surround field. Still, the DTS lossless track nicely renders Nurse Jackie’s always intriguing, often shocking dialogue, as well as its terrific score by Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman (formerly of Prince and the Revolution). There’s a subtle but definite sense of environment, whether it’s in the various areas of All Saints or in locations elsewhere.



    Special Features:

    Commentary by Actor Edie Falco and Producers Linda Wallem, Liz Brixius and Richie Jackson (eps. 1, 6, 10 and 12). Wallem and Brixius created Nurse Jackie and serve as executive producers. Jackson is Falco’s manager and ended up doing enough work on the series that he received a producer credit. Although the four of them obviously enjoyed recording these commentaries, the results are a textbook example of the dangers of a group commentary track. The participants laugh, joke, talk over each other, and generally have a good time instead of providing substantive content. Interesting bits of information do slip out here and there, though, and the patient listener will be rewarded.

    All About Edie (HD) (2:56). The story of how a show was designed for Edie Falco.

    Unsung Heros (HD) (5:32). A tribute to nurses.

    Prepping Nurse Jackie (HD) (10:55). Interviews with various participants on making the show.

    Nurse Stories (SD; 1.78:1) (6:58). Stories from real nurses about their most memorable patients.

    Nurse Jackie Season 1 Blu-ray Disc Production Credits.


    In Conclusion:

    If you’ve read this far, then you must be interested enough in Nurse Jackie to want to see it. Don’t hang around waiting for some reviewer less considerate than me to throw a bunch of spoilers on the page. Watch the show.




    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
     
  2. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Damn, Michael. I've always been curious about this show...and now you've gone and make this a "must buy" for me. Maybe by not telling me too much (the "considerate reviewer" in you!) you've succeeded in piquing my interest all the more.

    My wife and I were big fans of St. Elsewhere during it's original run. While you seem to indicate the two shows are not quite barking up the same tree, your description seems to paint Nurse Jackie as an edgy medical drama based on strong personalities with lots of surprises around every corner. That is much what I remember about St. Elsewhere.

    I think I might surprise the wife with this one. It's always fun to learn a new show together and we like being able to watch them commercial-free and on our own schedule. And it's nice to see reasonable prices for an entire season of a new program on BD (same as the DVD price!).

    I've never seen an episode of The Sopranos so I don't have any connection of Edie Falco to that show.
     
  3. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    I hope you enjoy it, Mike.

    After I post a review, I sometimes do a quick look around to see how other net reviewers have written up the title. As I suspected would be the case, every reviewer reveals too much. It's hard not to. This is a show where one really pays a price for not watching on the initial broadcast (although I hasten to add that it holds up beautifully on repeat viewing, because there's so much going on).
     
  4. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Just reporting in.

    Wife and I are probably up to episode six of Nurse Jackie. It took wife a lot longer to warm up to it than I did. She doesn't like the graphic nature of the show all that much--especially the blood. But I don't think there's really been all that much of that.

    I'm trying to figure out why TV characters don't know about the vibrate mode on their cell phones.

    We're taking our time. We kind of like the fact that it's just a half-hour program. And there are a lot of nice detailed touches in the character development.

    We continue to move forward.
     
  5. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    We completed the series last night.

    Knowing that we had watched the season finale and that there would be no more episodes until Season 2 hits the streets, my wife announced, "well, I'm glad you convinced me to stay with that one. I kinda like it."

    Like I said in an earlier post, the show, to me, does really seem to follow in the lineage of St. Elsewhere--a gritty hospital-based drama in which the characters are involved in (often over-the-top) real-life emotional situations. The writing is solid and the performances are great. I especially enjoy Haaz Sleiman ( I recently enjoyed his performance in The Visitor), while my wife has focused on Merritt Wever's work as Zoey. Also thrown in are the occasional surprise guest star (Eli Wallach! Not to mention VIctor Garber and several others.). The emphasis is on the ensemble...even though it appears as if the show 's raison d'etre was to provide a vehicle for Edie Falco.

    My lone criticism might be that they seem to have a hard time deciding what to do with Anna Deveare Smith's character of Mrs. Akalitus. She comes off as a pretty cliche buffoon of an administrator whose purpose is to serve mostly as a foil to the cast of nurses. I'd like to see her character written a bit more smartly. But that's a minor, minor point.

    Looking forward to Season 2. (It's nice to know I'll see Season 2 of Nurse Jackie on disc...since I've been waiting--and suffering--for an exceptionally long time for Season 2 of St. Elsewhere to show up.)
     
  6. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Glad you enjoyed it!

    I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Haaz Sleiman's Mo-mo is MIA in Season 2. The stated reason is that Dr. O'Hara ended up filling so much airtime as Jackie's friend and confidante that they didn't have enough room for his character, but who knows if that's the real reason? On the plus side, I've been finding Mrs. Akalitus even funnier and, if anything, more sympathetic this season. Would you want the job of presiding over this madhouse?
     
  7. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    THAT is disappointing about Mo-mo. But, I guess Eve Best has been getting lots of kudos this season for her work as O'Hara. I see many different mentions of her here & there.

    I hope Sleiman is able to have a big career break-out. I find him especially engaging and charismatic on screen. His character in The Visitor seemed like it was perfectly suited for him.
     

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