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Nursing a Broken Heart: An Advance Review of TNT's "Hawthorne"

Probably not the best time to launch a medical drama based around a plucky and opinionated nurse.

After all, Showtime just last week launched Nurse Jackie, its own series about, you got it, a plucky and opinionated nurse in a comedy series that's intelligent, gripping, and utterly unforgettable.

The same, sadly, can't be said for TNT's Hawthorne (I flat out refuse to capitalize the RN--for registered nurse, natch--in the series' title), which launches tonight on the cabler. Created by John Masius (St. Elsewhere, Dead Like Me), Hawthorne pales in comparison to the similarly-themed Nurse Jackie. It also tries to take a more serious tack with its handling of professional nurses than the Edie Falco-led Showtime series and yet feels all the more tired and staid as a result.

Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix) stars here as Christina Hawthorne, the widowed Chief Nursing Officer at Richmond Trinity hospital who has to contend with a headstrong daughter (Hannah Hodson), a brutal mother-in-law (Six Feet Under's Joanna Cassidy), and a slew of medical crises while also not being taken seriously by the hospital's doctors, even though she knows more about the patients than they do. In other words: we've seen all of this before.

Much of the pilot episode's conflict stems from the fact that Hawthorne and her daughter are trying to cope with the one-year anniversary of her husband David's death from cancer. And Hawthorne can't forget how things played out, especially given that she has to work each day right next to his oncologist Dr. Tom Wakefield (Alias' Michael Vartan), who serves as the Chief of Surgery at the hospital. Complicating things further are the fact that her husband's mother Amanda (Cassidy) is on the board of the hospital and she and Hawthorne agreed to exchange David's ashes on the one-year anniversary of his death... and David's terminally ill friend tries to kill himself by jumping off the hospital's roof.

While Hawthorne's personal life is falling apart at the seams, she strives to run her nurses with a firm but fair hand. Bobbie Jackson (Men in Trees's Suleka Mathew) is Hawthorne's closest friend who conceals a prosthetic leg underneath her scrubs; Ray Stein (David Julian Hirsh) attempts to rise above the constant derision he receives for being a male nurse; and Candy Sullivan (90210's Christina Moore) likes to give her patients--especially the good-looking ones, a little extra TLC.

Hawthorne herself is brittle and abrasive and given to overwrought internal narration as well as petty acts of rebellion. (See what she does with some of David's ashes for an example.) Yet as much as Pinkett Smith tries to make her sympathetic and driven, Hawthorne seems like any number of other TV nurses: determined, overworked, and underpaid. Not to mention in touch with the humanity of her patients, which is something that the hospital's doctors have forgotten in an age of profits and bottom lines.

The result is overly earnest without breaking any new ground. Hawthorne feels like a zillion other medical series that have come and gone and its "time heals all wounds" message feels greeting-card faux-heavy in a genre that has new competition from the aforementioned Nurse Jackie. Ultimately, this is a summer series that definitely can be skipped despite its efforts to inject heart into the medical drama.

Hawthorne premieres tonight at 9 pm ET/PT on TNT.


Sue said…
Well, I watched anyway despite your review, and I liked it. However, I must note that I have not seen Nurse Jackie, so I can't compare the two.

I was fully expecting to dislike it, but the cast worked well together (ok, the Candy Sullivan character can go). I kind of see it as a nurses version of "ER". Yes, it wasn't riveting nor compelling, but it wasn't boring either.

I'll watch the next episode and then decide if I am going to continue for the rest of the season.
Dani In NC said…
When I saw the previews for Hawthorne, the first thought I had was that TNT beat NBC to the gate. They have a show with a similar setup called Mercy that is coming out in March 2010. The preview for Mercy looks like an edgier version of Hawthorne.
Anonymous said…
Just caught the last part of the show after my evening shift. What I saw looked like a pretty tight medical drama.
The review says
"Hawthorne seems like any number of other TV nurses: determined, overworked, and underpaid. Not to mention in touch with the humanity of her patients, which is something that the hospital's doctors have forgotten in an age of profits and bottom lines.
Hello? Let's delete a word here and expand "any number of TV nurses" to "any number of nurses". Does a reviewer ever say "any number of doctors can run a hypovolemia code in a busy ER and call for 2 units of O negative STAT", "any number of TV carpenter guys can use a nail gun"?
Is it because most nurses are women, or is it because people can't accept that we really do those things, routinely?
Next review focus on the acting, the story, the production values, but don't tell me it's boring because it's just about someone doing their job.
Bore me with what you do for a living?
Yeah, it was an extra fun night.
Annie said…
Anonymous, did you even read the review? Because that's not at all what he said or even implied. If you're going to quote someone out of context at least have the courtesy to put the whole quote.

And yeah your comment bored me as much as this show did.

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