“Nurse Jackie” exits as one of the most underrated shows of all time
– Kevin Donnan
(Edie Falco as Showtime’s Nurse Jackie)
If you watched The Sopranos as faithfully and relentlessly as I did, you know that very few could ever follow Carmela Soprano. When ‘Carm’ entered a room, she was a force of nature, and typically in (likely stolen) Italian pumps, a magnificent Chignon and perfect nails.
And she was all Jersey girl too. Exactly the way Bruuuuce helped us imagine that yes, even a depressive, psychopathic, tortured soul and mobster like Tony Soprano would surrender his heart because, “Nothing matters in this whole wide world, when you’re in love with a Jersey girl.”
Beautiful, tough and unbeatable. Edie Falco played the role of the smart, conflicted, devoted and all too suburban mob wife to perfection, picking up eight Emmy, SAG and Golden Globe awards.
Following The Sopranos, when it was announced that she was taking on the role of the unethical and indomitable “Nurse Jackie,” I wasn’t about to turn away after her performance as the matriarch of La Familia, North Jersey.
Now, as Nurse Jackie has come to a close after seven seasons, I wonder about the prospects of a meeting between Carmela and Jackie Peyton? That’s a showdown that would give Sergio Leone a chill.
Falco‘s first significant recognition was on the HBO series Oz as the tortured prison guard Diane Whittlesly. It was The Sopranos that launched her into the stratosphere. Her scenes with the incomparable James Gandolfini are the stuff of legend, and no matter the situation, be it in a kitchen, a funeral parlour, or a hospital room, when Carmela was in a scene you couldn’t take your eyes off of her.
The Sopranos was not for every taste, but if you had to pick one episode to simply gain an appreciation for her work, watch “Whitecaps.” It is that penultimate episode where you will see the most raw and real interpretation of a relationship laid bare. It has been rightly compared to Taylor and Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and if you’ve ever seen it, there is no way you could forget it.
From the outset, Nurse Jackie was a difficult series to pin down. Always placed and hinted as being a comedy, Nurse Jackie was significantly and dramatically more geared towards drama, and critics have also suggested that at times, this factor was part of its struggle to find its place and a wider audience. However, when it had to be funny it was downright hilarious, and when heart-wrenching drama was required this cast and its star could most certainly pull it off.
Through its smallish, and even cult-like audience, it has carved out its own place thanks to the toughness and unrelenting passion of the actress and the role. That audience has been riveted and pained while watching the navigation of addiction, with its central character fighting to remain strong as she desperately battles for something to hold on to, all the while trying to save the lives of others.
As she descends, she elevates. Redemption and heartbreak, and as she falls, she tumbles. Criticized at times, and perhaps was at its best a season or two ago, it’s hard not to call this series one of the quietest, most underrated shows of recent vintage.
In Oz and The Sopranos, Falco was part of substantial ensemble casts. When she signed on for Nurse Jackie, however, this was the series where she took an even bigger step forward.
During its seven year run, and as the undeniable core of the ensemble, is where she found another gear, showed another facet and even more depth. Through this series, which in its final season rebounded from a somewhat slower previous season-and-a-half, Falco has shone while working within multiple storylines and jousting with the entire cast seemingly all at once. It’s that ability, and perhaps agility, to deliver time and time again as both the actor and the character are in the nucleus of chaos, that should cement Falco‘s status as easily the best working actress in television over the past 20 years.
No matter its challenges or successes, this sharply written, beautifully paced and incredibly clever character study was very unique. Yes, we’ve seen the ‘rebel with good intentions’ before, but we’ve never seen it from as wide a spectrum. The caregiver who at the core is inherently good, is also an addict.
You can now add the incomparable and insufferable Jackie Peyton in the lexicon of “Mary” and “Elaine” and “Murphy.” In addition, and in as much as you can add the character to that list, it is time to start looking at Falco as an actress you can start to mention with the likes of Mary Tyler Moore, Julia Louis Dreyfus and Candice Bergen. As much as those three ushered in their own eras on the small screen and left indelible performances behind, Edie Falco has been the unquestioned heroine and trailblazer for female characters on cable television.
From the prison guard, to the suburban hausfrau and now, the addict and caregiver, she took the trials and tribulations of nurse/addict Jackie Peyton and created another one of the most dynamic female characters in the history of television.
While ironic that Nurse Jackie, like The Sopranos, ended with its own open-ended and audience interpretive conclusion, the one constant remains. No matter what has happened or what’s been thrown at them, Carmela and Jackie will survive.
All I can think now is that I hope she takes a well deserved break, but comes back soon. Because from Diane, to Carmela, and to Jackie, Edie Falco always leaving you wondering and wanting more.
Kevin Donnan is a regular contributor to The Scoop and is a sports obsessed and self-confessed Pop Culture idiot savant trapped in a frozen, northern wasteland, yet, loves all things Texas and is the most “American” Canadian who has ever lived above the 49th parallel.