Just a few short months ago, the Showtime series Nurse Jackie proved that it’s possible to create a dramatic, funny, thematically complex TV show about the daily grind of hospital nursing. And right on the heels of Nurse Jackie, the TNT series HawthoRNe proved that a show about a headstrong nurse could be just as hackneyed as any other medical drama. The new NBC series Mercy is more HawthoRNe than Nurse Jackie.
Taylor Schilling plays Veronica Callahan, a tough-as-nails, unusually resourceful nurse at a New Jersey hospital. Recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, Nurse Veronica has battle-shock issues and Mommy issues (her mother’s played by Kate Mulgrew), both of which figure into the way she handles her patients, her bosses, and her fellow nurses. One of the colleagues who feels her wrath on a regular basis is Nurse Chloe (played by Michelle Trachtenberg), the new girl on staff, whose sunny disposition and idealistic view of the profession clashes with Veronica’s practicality. Balancing Veronica? Nurse Sonia (played by Jaime Lee Kirchner), a low-key soul with a healing touch and romantic woes.
The first episode of Mercy introduces our three heroines, along with the doctors they answer to. There’s James LeGros as Dr. Harris, the officious prick who chastises Nurse Veronica for practicing field surgery when she happens upon a car crash. There’s Delroy Lindo as Dr. Parks, the kindly older doc who has Veronica’s back, but would like her to tone down her headstrong attitude. And there’s James Tupper as the handsome Dr. Sands, another Iraq War vet whom Nurse Veronica is sleeping with behind the back of her on-again/off-again husband Mike (played by Diego Klattenhoff).
Schilling is quite good as a woman who can’t get used to not being in charge, and one who can barely stand the weak-willed half-wits who surround her. She has a few nice moments in the premiere episode, including a quirky, amusing bit where she and her brother go hunting through their alcoholic parents’ house in order to find a hidden bottle so they can get drunk themselves. And there’s an interesting dynamic between Veronica and Mike, an unreliable brawler that she wishes she could love, if only because she feels bad for breaking his heart when she went overseas.
But once Veronica heads to work, Mercy becomes awfully familiar, whether the heroine is berating Chloe for her inability to kill an old man with cancer, or berating Dr. Sands for giving a woman false hope by offering a surgery that won’t help, or berating a young doctor for refusing to take a chance and give a teenage patient the drug she knows he needs. (“Now is when you throw the Hail Marys, you unbelievable moron!” she yells.) In the first episode at least, Veronica is the misunderstood saint of Mercy hospital, who makes mistakes in her personal life but is peerless in scrubs. “You’re a wonderful nurse. Don’t doubt it for a second,” one of her trickier patients tells her at the end of the episode. If the creators of Mercy doubted it a little, they might actually have more than just an average medical drama on their hands.
-Here’s how we know Nurse Chloe is hopelessly naïve: She wears Hello Kitty scrubs, and she gives energy bars to the homeless.
-Dr. Parks complains that Veronica calls Dr. Harris “a testicle head,” but she corrects him and says she called him “a scrotum head.” Are these epithets anyone would actually hurl?
-At the bar, Veronica and her burly guy-pals argue over who would win in a fistfight: Obama or Putin. Is this an argument anyone would actually have?
-The lettering on the outside of Mercy Hospital looks like the fake lettering that hangs in the air on Fringe. Less than 24 hours until the next Fringe!