Apparently, now that ER is off the air (with Scrubs perhaps not far behind), the TV Gods have decreed that the box needs more medical shows. Royal Pains just debuted on USA Network; and Nurse Jackie on Showtime. This fall, NBC will begin airing Trauma. And tonight, TNT introduced the Jada Pinkett Smith vehicle HawthoRNe. Personally, I’m a sucker for hospital dramas, on TV and in the movies. I think I’ve watched every Dr. Kildare film that TCM has ever aired—some of them twice. I’ve seen The Hospital and The Interns and The Young Doctors, and on my shelf I’ve got DVDs of Quincy, Emergency, St. Elsewhere—even The Kingdom. It doesn’t take much to hook me on a doc-show. But despite my low threshold, I’m here to tell you: HawthoRNe is pretty weak medicine.

Here’s the premise: Christina Hawthorne is the greatest person who ever lived, and nearly everyone who works with her at Richmond Trinity is a malevolent incompetent. In HawthoRNe’s first episode we see Smith:

-Rush past a hospital security guard (after she forgets her badge) in order to talk a friend out of jumping off the roof. (She subsequently gets arrested.)

-Help a bag lady stay out of the pokey after she “finds” a baby in a basket—“His name is Moses… as in Moses Malone”—that turns out to be her own child.

-Defend one of her nurses when he follows a doctor’s orders and nearly kills a diabetic ex-soldier.

-Elicit volunteers to make centerpieces for a hospital function.

-Write an angry memo when another one of her nurses gets stabbed in the prosthetic leg by a psycopath.

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-Zip to her rebellious daughter’s high school when the girl handcuffs herself to a vending machine in protest against excessive snack control.

-Deal with her fatuous, self-absorbed mother-in-law, who sits on the hospital board and considers her “unreliable.”

-Promise to help the custodial staff get their favorite cleanser back.

Meanwhile, the doctors at Nurse Hawthorne’s hospital are presented as sleepy, sick, lazy, heavily accented or golfing. (The sole exception being Matthew Vartan’s Dr. Tom Wakefield, a handsome, caring administrator with a thing for lime suckers.) And the much-put-upon nurses spend their days complaining about doctor-abuse, lusting after paramedics, giving handjobs to needy patients and trembling in fear.

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Compared to the rough-and-tumble black comedy of Nurse Jackie, HawthoRNe is flat and predictable; and compared to the delightfully breezy Royal Pains, the show is dreary and plain. TNT is trying here to follow its own successful formula, taking a conventional TV genre and casting a respected movie actress as its strong-willed lead. But HawthoRNe isn’t as smart or flavorful as The Closer or Saving Grace, and though Smith is fine as the lead, her character (in the pilot at least) isn’t much of a grabber. The big character beat of episode one has to do with Hawthorne enduring the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death and deciding at the end that she’s ready to stop talking to his ashes and instead to burn them in a CGI fire and send them up in a tiny balloon.

And that’s your first episode. Consider yourself… HawthoRNed!

Grade: C-

Stray observations:

-I did like that HawthoRNe takes place in Richmond, VA, since too few shows venture between the coasts. But there wasn’t a lot of local color in this first episode, and from the stock characters to the generic Closer-esque score, nothing much about this show screams “unique.”

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-The writers do pepper the dialogue with the occasional “bullshit” though. That’s a weird thing to hear on a series so doggedly bland.