Jungle
HawthoRNe: The Complete First Season

Hawthorne

Season: 
1
Network(s): 
Genre: 
On DVD: 
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Grade:
B-

TNT’s success with shows centered on strong heroines continued last summer with HawthoRNe, the Jada Pinkett Smith medical drama that shows hospital life from a nursing director’s point of view.  It focuses on compassionate, hardworking, and stubborn Christina Hawthorne (Pinkett Smith), who is willing to do whatever she feels she needs to do to best help her patients and staff at Richmond Trinity Hospital.  On the personal front, she is a recent widow with a less than trustworthy teenage daughter and a mother-in-law (the always welcome Joanna Cassidy) who sits on the Richmond Trinity Board. 

HawthoRNe takes place almost exclusively in the hospital and steers away from exotic medical mysteries to instead focus on all the little dramas that bubble up for patients and the people caring for them, with a strong focus on empathetic nurses fighting the good fight against arrogant doctors and bottom-line driven administrators.  Lighter moments, such as Christina’s daughter Camille’s driving lessons, or hints of romance between various characters are interspersed, as are weightier ones, like the struggles of recurring character Isabel, a homeless woman dealing with the aftereffects of giving up her baby for adoption.

The characters are mostly interesting and their diversity is impressive.  Richmond Trinity looks like any hospital you might walk into with its true to life mix of people.  Bobbie is Christina’s best friend and an excellent nurse.  She’s insecure about her prosthetic leg and bumpy romance with an EMT but is apparently the only person willing to call Christina out.  Ray is a male nurse with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a big crush on Candy, a patriotic (very, given she believes wounded veterans deserve free hand jobs) and slightly naive nurse. Kelly is a sweet but inexperienced and unsure nurse with a serious road rage issue and the obligatory doctor on Christina’s side (and future love interest) is Dr. Tom Wakefield, the Chief of Surgery who treated Christina’s late husband during his battle with cancer.  

The biggest problem with HawthoRNe is that it reduces too many doctors to the one note role of arrogant ass.  They treat the nurses with derision and dismiss the patients as mere cases, so Christina swoops in and “fixes” things, unapologetically breaking rules, codes of conduct, ethical standards, and even laws in the process but looking like a heroine as she does it because she is caring and the doctors aren’t (even if the doctor was right).  It takes what could be a layered, fascinating look at modern nursing and its role in medicine and reduces it to a series of “Very Special” episodes where lessons are learned and I’m not even sure it’s always the right lessons being learned.  Also, the show is overly tame with no real sense of urgency or tension (aside from nurses being constantly dumped on, of course).  I never felt that involved in HawthoRNe.
 
The cast is first-rate.  Pinkett-Smith is a charismatic lead and the force of her personality carries HawthoRNe, despite the surprising lack of depth given her character.  Christina is compassionate, sad, and omniscient.  She’s one of the good guys who are right even when she’s wrong: that’s all we know and despite Pinkett Smith’s talent and likeability, that won’t be enough long-term.  Michael Vartan is fine as the rather bland Dr. Wakefield, but he never seems quite comfortable with medical terminology. Cast standout David Julian Hirsh gives Ray more depth than the scripts and Suleka Mathew imbues Bobbie with grace and vulnerability. Hannah Hodson keeps daughter Camille likeable while Vanessa Lengies adds welcome lightness as Kelly.  Christina Moore is fun as Candy, though I still haven’t made up my mind about the character.

For extras, there is a quick preview of Season 2 at the beginning of Disc One and seven short featurettes on Disc 3 that could have been edited into one “making of” piece.  “All in a Day’s Work: A Conversation with Jada Pinkett Smith” combines show clips with Pinkett Smith sound bites about the series.   “Inside Richmond Trinity” has members of the cast and crew discuss the show and “Get to Know the Cast of HawthoRNe” shows the stars sharing personal tidbits.  Christina Moore (Candy) tells us what she’s learned about defibrillators (no, really) in “HawthoRNe Medical School” while “Male Nurses” gives David Julian Hirsh (Ray) the chance to read the back of the box of a male nurse action figure.  Suleka Matthew talks about using the green screen to show Bobbie’s prosthetic leg in “Shooting a Scene: Visual Effects” and executive producer Glen Mazzarra and some of the cast talk about their heroes in “HawthoRNe’s Heroes.”  The video and audio are both good with a generally crisp widescreen picture and Dolby 5.1 that loses some of its fullness in surround.

HawthoRNe is a decent but frustrating show.  It has an excellent core cast and an interesting premise, but it needs to focus more on nuance.  Gray areas are always more interesting than black and white, and the succession of one note guest stars and plot points is more than stale.  I want the writers to trust in the fact that nurses are valuable and stop using a sledgehammer to prove it.  If they do that, they can focus on more involving cases with deeper emotional impact while fleshing out their core characters.  That would keep me coming back to watch.  The nurses are smart and kind, doctors are mean schtick won’t.

Review by Michelle St. James