Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan, Suleka Mathew, David Julian Hirsh, Christina Moore, Hannah Hodson, Anne Ramsay, James Morrison
Complete First Season
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All photos © TNT
Reviewed by Will Harris
learly, someone in TNT’s programming department has a checklist of popular TV genres, and they’re going down it every time there’s an opening in their schedule, playing the “got it, had it, need it” game. If you’ve been paying attention over the years, then you know that they’ve already tried their hand at an original medical drama in the past, but Treat Williams’ “Heartland” was three years ago, and damnit, isn’t it about time they gave the genre another shot?
This time, we have “HawthoRNe,” a series which – as the annoyingly capitalized letters in its title are intended to reveal to you up front – focuses on the nursing staff of Richmond Trinity Hospital, led by Christina Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett Smith). Poor Nurse Hawthorne has had a time of it: not only is she a widow, but her husband died while she was on duty, and her daughter, Camille (Hannah Hodson), has never let her forget it. Trying to be a single mother while maintaining control of Richmond Trinity keeps her on her toes, and throwing her financial struggles into the mix often leaves her teetering on the verge of an emotional breakdown, but she still manages to keep her head above water.
Hawthorne’s biggest problem, however, is that she’s opinionated. Damned opinionated, in fact. This tendency regularly finds her butting heads not only with the hospital’s chief administrator, John Morrissey (James Morrison), but also with several of the doctors. Most notable among these is Dr. Brenda Marshall (Anne Ramsay), a physician whose ego about her surgical gifts often leads her to make errors, which she invariably tends to blame on nurses. Indeed, the only physician prone to standing alongside Hawthorne and the decisions that she makes is Dr. Tom Wakefield (Michael Vartan), and even he’s pretty sick of her actions by the time the season finale rolls around.
“HawthoRNe” offers a nice selection of guest stars as patients, including Cloris Leachman, D.B. Woodside, Amy Pietz (Michael Scott’s new girlfriend on “The Office”), Judy Reyes (“Scrubs”), and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who, amusingly, is parenthetically credited as being from “Malcolm & Eddie,” like we wouldn’t see that and say, “Oh, wait, you mean the dude from ‘The Cosby Show’?” What it does not offer, however, is much in the way of originality. The series is prone to far more sentimentality than any medical series outside of the Hallmark Channel should be allowed to have, with a lot of storylines tending to wrap up with either a patient or a nurse saying something along the lines of, “Oh, wow, now I get it!” That’s right: they’ve learned a valuable lesson. Yawn.
There’s a star-crossed lovers storyline between Candy Sullivan (Christina Moore) and Ray Stein (David Julian Hirsh), but although he’s funny and she’s hot, their whole relationship feels staged. The most interesting character in the hospital ensemble is Bobbie Jackson (Suleka Mathew), a nurse with an artificial leg, and it’s within one of her storylines that “HawthoRNe” finally starts to show some potential. In the pilot episode, a homeless woman is introduced as a recurring character, but although she sticks predominantly within Hawthorne’s gravitational field at first, she soon finds her way into Bobbie’s life…and promptly steals her best artificial leg. Now that’s funny, and the storyline is picked up in a later episode to great effect.
If this review makes it sound as though “HawthoRNe” is in critical condition, well, good, because it really isn’t that great a series. If you should watch the entire first season, however, you will find that, in the midst of all of this sentimentality and schmaltz, there’s one episode that they hit completely out of the park, making you wish that every episode was this good: it’s called “Mother’s Day,” it’s the next-to-last episode of the season, and it finds the show with a noticeably darker tone. Seriously, it’s “I can’t believe I’m even watching the same show” good.
Is this what we can expect from Season Two of “HawthoRNe”? At the very least, it’s good enough to make me want to check out the season premiere, and as of the end of the eight episodes that preceded “Mother’s Day,” I never would’ve believed that I’d feel that way.
Special Features: TNT is generally pretty good about providing bonus material for its series for their first-season DVD releases, and “HawthoRNe” is no exception. There are several nice featurettes here, including “All in a Day’s Work: A Conversation with Jada Pinkett Smith,” “Inside Richmond Trinity,” “Get to Know the Cast of ‘HawthoRNe,’” “‘HawthoRNe’ Medical School,” “Male Nurses,” “Shooting a Scene: Visual Effects,” and “‘HawthoRNe’’s Heroes.” Granted, some of them are fleeting in length, and “Male Nurses” is less a featurette than just an excuse to remind viewers that there’s nothing wrong with guys being nurses, but fans of the show will no doubt find all of them worth at least a single viewing. Shame about the lack of audio commentaries, though.