On a recent business trip to New Zealand, I had the opportunity to catch the entire first season of the hit Showtime series 'Nurse Jackie'. The show stars Edie Falco of Soprano's fame and focuses on her job as veteran nurse of a Catholic hospital in New York City. Each episode showcases her struggles to balance career and family life, and adds two twists: Jackie is addicted to prescription drugs and she is carrying on an affair with the hospital's pharmacist Eddie.
The show touts itself as a black comedy, but I find this qualification misleading. In essence Nurse Jackie is a drama with comedic touches. I found myself laughing at the absurdities that Falco's character imposes on herself. At the same time I realised the show is a commentary about modern America. I doubt the creators of the show set out to portray the Greco-Roman antipodes that comprise modern American culture, yet there they are on display in each episode.
Jackie is presented as morally conflicted, which explains on the one hand her rational devotion to her job whilst she simultaneously engages in self destructive behaviour. She purports to love her husband and two daughters, yet she still has a daily sexual affair with Eddie the pharmacist. As the season progresses, the conflict between her two sides intensifies, creating ever more absurd twists in the storyline. Will Eddie finally figure out that Jackie is married with children? Will her husband discover that Jackie abuses drugs and sleeps with her co-worker?
These are interesting enough reasons to watch the show, but the greater question nagged at me throughout the 12 30-minute episodes, which was: in a culture where rationality is ever diminishing, is it possible to return from the brink of collapse and right one's course? Nurse Jackie doesn't answer this question, but it does highlight in stark relief the conflict tugging at the soul of America.