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Reviewed by Will Harris
y the end of watching Season Two of Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” viewers will have so many reasons to dislike Jackie Peyton, RN, that they may well run out of fingers while counting them off. Even if your instincts initially find you wanting to be sympathetic toward someone who’s spiraling ever downward into drug addiction, it doesn’t take long for Jackie’s nasty attitude and propensity toward lying to leave you wishing, hoping, and even praying to the Virgin Mary that she’ll get her comeuppance and, indeed, her just desserts.
Wait, this is a comedy?
You bet: even with all its drama, “Nurse Jackie” still inspires a tremendous amount of laughter.
So what if a lot of those laughs are inspired by nervousness, the kind that comes out when you don’t really know how else to react to the events you’re seeing unfold? It still counts.
If you missed out on Season One, here’s what you need to know about Jackie: she’s leading a double life – several of them, actually. When she’s at home, she’s happily married to Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and is the proud mother of two beautiful daughters, one of which is rather more neurotic than the other. Most of her co-workers at the hospital, however, don’t know anything at all about her home life. They don’t know she has a husband, they don’t know she has children, and for the most part, they also don’t know that she’s sleeping with the staff pharmacist, Eddie Walzer (Paul Schulze), who, as it happens, also didn’t know she had a husband and children. Mind you, by the end of Season One, it didn’t matter a great deal who at the hospital knew about Eddie, as he’d been replaced by an automatic pill dispenser, but when poor, lovelorn Eddie found out about Kevin and the kids…well, actually, that’s right about where the season ended.
There’s a lot of tension in the air when Season Two kicks off, most of it revolving around Eddie and what he’s going to do with what he knows. Instead of busting Jackie outright, he does something far creepier: he becomes a regular at the bar Kevin owns. Surprisingly, an actual friendship develops between Eddie and Kevin, one which by season’s end is arguably stronger than the relationship between Eddie and Jackie. Still, Eddie’s history as a loose cannon is such that you nonetheless spend the whole of Season Two fearing he might suddenly snap and say, “Hey, you know what, Kevin? I’ve been screwing your wife!”
Jackie’s relationship with her family proves more frustrating than ever in Season Two, in no small part because she doesn’t know what to do to help her eldest daughter, Grace (Ruby Jerins), who’s on the fast road to a lifetime of therapy even without knowing that her mother’s an adulterous drug addict. Similarly, although Kevin is woefully ignorant of Jackie’s infidelities and pharmaceutical indulgences, there’s still a fair amount of stress in their marriage. Some of it comes from Jackie’s paranoia that one of Kevin’s ex-girlfriends – who, by coincidence, happens to be the mother of Grace’s best friend – is still carrying a torch for him, but there’s also tension over Kevin’s refusal to accept a donation to the girls’ college fund from Jackie’s friend and co-worker, Dr. Eleanor O’Hara (Eve Best).
Speaking of Dr. O’Hara, she’s still as wild and crazy as ever, and Season Two provides the character with a storyline that fleshes out her back history and introduces us to one of her former paramours, played by Julia Ormond. In addition, there’s love in the air for the still-cute-as-a-button Zoe (Merritt Wever), Coop’s ego grows to enormous bounds with the help of Twitter and the decision to make him the face of the hospital’s new ad campaign, and although Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith) moves away from being the show’s Snidley Whiplash and evolves into a much more relatable character, she still manages to be a laugh riot. Thor (Stephen Wallem) still seems to exist mostly to deliver punchlines, but at least he’s good at it. More interesting is Sam (Arjun Gupta), who returns after a one-off appearance in Season One to become Jackie’s unintentional nemesis throughout Season Two, but, really, all of the secondary characters get various opportunities to shine through the course of these episodes.
I can’t speak to the accuracy of “Nurse Jackie” as a look into the life of a functioning drug addict, but I can say that Jackie’s actions during the show at least seem to paint a realistic portrait of a sad woman who’ll do anything to get her fix, whether pharmaceutical or romantic, no matter what the cost. Edie Falco’s Emmy win for the first season of the series was utterly justified, and if she doesn’t at least get nominated for her work in Season Two, it’ll be a crime. The proceedings may zip by in a flash, but the laughs and the horror inspired by “Nurse Jackie” linger on long afterward.
Special Features: As with the Season One set, fans will be pleased to find a more than acceptable amount of bonus material, nicely spread throughout the three discs. The first two discs each offer a commentary from Falco and the show’s producers, as well as a featurette about one of the stars, with Eve Best taking the featurette spotlight on Disc One, then yielding to Peter Facinelli for Disc Two. It’s somehow appropriate, then, to find the two actors teaming up for a pair of commentaries on Disc Three, which also includes a commentary from Falco and the producers for the season finale. Elsewhere on the set, you’ll also find a montage of the main title music, as well as the obligatory gag reel.