Hello, Nurse!: Putting Hawthorne on the (Round)Table

Hosted by Special Correspondent Arturo R. García

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The premiere of Hawthorne wasted no time defining Jada Pinkett Smith’s title character: emotionally conflicted over her husband’s death and a classic, though caring, workaholic, fighting authority – not to mention the local authorities – in the name of her job and her corps of nurses.

What makes the show more notable isn’t just Jada’s star turn; it’s the fact she’s joining Holly Hunter and Kyra Sedgwick as star/executive producers of their TNT vehicles. The idea is, the network gets the star power, and in Pinkett-Smith’s case, as she told USA Today, she gets “a lab where [she]I could learn about story structure.”

Ahh, but how did the first story play out, with its’ suicidal patients, homeless miracle babies, patient sexin’, rebellious daughter and posthumous interracial(?) romance? Before tonight’s episode, let’s consult some friends. ROUNDTABLE, ASSEMBLE!

Ok, kudos, first off, to JPS for being both the star and an exec. producer. But how do you think she’s handling the character or Christina so far?
Andrea: I think Mrs. Pinkett Smith had to exec-produce the show in order to keep it from descending into Gross Negress Stereotype Territory–namely the Sassy Angry Black woman who neck-rolls her way through her nursing shifts. I’m glad Jada plays Christina as spunky and tough, but 1/2–if not 3/4–of what she did during that one shift would have gotten her spunky, tough, Black female ass canned, regardless of her position. In this respect, I think Jada exec-produced the first hospital sci-fantasy, not hospital drama.

Mahsino: Actually, that’s pretty much how my mom is at work, and she’s a nurse. Of course, she doesn’t work at the hospital anymore, but I’ll buy it. Hell, that’s pretty much how I am at work, “the look” and all.

Diana: I like the fact that JPS was able to bring a drama with black female protagonist to the small screen. But I had to make a note to self–we’ve been here before–Diahann Carroll as Julia, in 1968. She too was a nurse, recently widowed, raising a child.

Andrea: True about Julia. But I got “dignified” from that show.. At least Christina’s spunkiness makes her interesting, if unbelieveable.

Diana: And Christina had a scene with “wild” hair–reminded me of the ladies of Heroes.

Andrea: LOL!

Mahsino: Ha. Wasn’t Angela’s sister’s name also Christina? Sidenote, next season they’re getting rid of the wig. Now this has noting to do with JPS’s acting ability, but I generally hate background music that tries to tell me how I should feel (take a note, Grey’s Anatomy). I don’t need quirky upbeat music to tell me something amusing is going on- good acting should convey the message, and they were doing a good job of that without the damn music. In short, she did a good job.

Erica: I loved the wild hair look. And loved the security guard escape routine — and how she’s totally on the job herding patients back where they should be even when racing to the roof to confront a suicidal patient. Spunky and smart, that’s a character I can be interested in.

Was it me, or was baby Moses eyeroll in pretty good-looking shape, considering the twist regarding his parentage?
Andrea: As always, I’m surprised at how big the baby was to be a newborn. When I think of newborn, I think of this. Or this. Again, considering the level of disbelief we have to suspend for Christina’s behavior, I guess we have to also suspend our belief regarding the baby, too. (Can I say how utterly adorable that baby was? His cheeks were soooo kissable!)

Diana: He was a sweet looking baby. I think we did have to just suspend disbelief. What about the mother. She was walking around like nothing had happened. I was like, how did she give birth with all those clothes ? And why isn’t she laid out somewhere recuperating?

Andrea: Ooooookaaaaaay? At the same time, the plot hinted at–and I think Bobbie made a passing statement about–the mother having a mental condition, as homelessness is usually coded in pop culture. So, her giving birth in her clothes and carrying a sick infant afterwards in a shopping basket isn’t too far off the fictional mark.

Mahsino: Have you ever seen those free-birthing documentaries where (arguably) sane women just drop kids without medical supervision of any kind? I’ll give the lady a pass, especially with a mental illness. But I do call bull on cute brand-newborn babies. FAIL. Newborn babies are rarely that cute. His eyes were open too wide and he seemed way too alert for a newborn.

Erica: I was actually pretty impressed with how close to newborn the baby looked — usually television “newborns” are fat six-month-olds. But yeah, he looked way too healthy and cheerful.

hawthorne 2Your take on the rest of the nursing staff? I liked Bobbie, and thought the introduction of her own romantic interest was a nice touch. But the Young Nurse Who Cries and asks “am I going to cry every day?” seemed a bit much for me, as far as character tropes.
Andrea: LOL! Yeah, I feel you on Nurse Weepy. I wanted to scream, “Woman, buck up or go be an actor!” But I got too meta and ironic, and I backed away from the po-mo. Fast. So, I concentrated on the other nursing staffers. I liked Bobbie, and I was glad to see a PoC/PoC friendship where both held their own without devolving into a stereotype-as-best-friend. And I dug how Bobbie having a prosthetic leg was dealt with factually and humorously and romantically, not as a overstated “teaching moment” for the audience. I was also happy to see so many women of size on the show.

However, it was odd that 1) the white male nurse’s angst at the “reverse sexism” he faced got all sorts of play and 2) the white blonde nurse’s giving Soldier Boy some “extra TLC” merely raised an eyebrow from other nurses, which came off as hateration more than ethical questioning.

Diana: I liked the fact that Bobbie had a prosthetic leg. The knife in the leg was something definitely unexpected. I liked the male nurse who could not pass his MCATs. That’s something you don’t see everyday. Nurse Weepy reminded me of Lacey Chabert (from Party of Five) who really got on my nerves. I hope she stops crying real soon.

Mahsino: Come on now, I’m pretty sure we’ve all with with that one incompetent person who cries/complains about everything. I’ll give it a pass on that one. They need to stop hiring high-pictched brunettes with high ponytails to work in medical dramas. Yeah, it’s a cliched, annoying character- but isn’t the tough, yet humourous, nurse of color trope one, too? I happen to like Bobbie, but she’s been done. Cosign on the PoC/PoC friendship love, though.

I thought the reveal about Christina’s husband was a nice twist on an on-screen interracial romance, what with us not meeting the actual guy.
Andrea: Hmmm….I had to think about that. I at first thought, “Oh? Christina’s late hubby was white?” Then I thought, “Hold it. We only see the white mother-in-law and the (coded as) bi-racial daughter.” Since we only see these two folks, is the husband actually white? Or could he be bi-racial himself (and did he consider himself Black, a la President Obama)? Or an adopted light-skinned Black man or other PoC? So, until I see a photo of the dude and get some more backstory, I’m jumping to no conclusions about him.

Diana: I just assumed he was white. I was more interested in why everyone thought Christina had “let” him die or caused his death. Did I miss something?

Andrea: Naw, gurl. They’re just tryna get you to watch the show again.

Mahsino: Yeah, I’m not going to jump the gun and say he’s white either. If only because there’s only so many stereotypes we can smash at a time.

Open Mic!
Andrea: Is it me or was “Asian” the go-to prop on the show? From the nurses referring to the “Japanese tea ceremony thingy” and the Vasian (Latoya’s word for “vaguely Asian”) wish lantern (I call it that ’cause, though the concept is Thai in origin and has spread throughout parts of Asia, I wasn’t sure if the script on the lantern was Thai and, honestly, it looked like a Japanese paper lantern) to Dr. Mazaki’s being the Ballistic Asian Man stereotype whose English-speaking skills made Nurse Weepy cry (again), Asian things and folks got no respect in this ep.

Diana: Andrea, I did not get any of that stuff either. Was the doctor who could not speak English supposed to be funny? It was not. The lantern thing was interesting, but I don’t know its cultural origins. I thought it was odd Christina and the mother-in-law share her dead husband’s ashes.  That’s kind of freaky. Otherwise, I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to get into this show.  I’m still mourning the end of ER. I do want to support Jada though.

Mahsino: The Dr. Mazaki thing disgusted me. Never in all my life (bearing in mind I have a non native English speaking parent) have I heard a non native English speaker speak anything that unrecognizable- even when they’re mumbling. That was over the top. I don’t care how short of a period someone’s been speaking the language, you can usually pick out key words, that actor was just over-the-top. And she’s a nurse and he’s probably saying something important, at some point she should’ve asked him to write it down. Common sense, real nurses haz it.

Erica: The accent scene was ridiculous, full stop. As far as I can tell, it was there to point out how much nurses have to soothe the egos of the all-powerful doctors. It was implausible and offensive. (What does he do when he gets a patient who doesn’t understand him, ask for a patient that speaks English?)

Andrea, what’d your mom think of all this?
Andrea: Mom (a retired coronary-care and ICU nurse) fell asleep watching it. She contends she couldn’t form an opinion because of it; I say she already did.

Did the pilot do its’ job – leave you wanting more?
Andrea: No. But I’ll watch ’cause I 1) need to exercise my anti-racism snark muscles and 2) miss y’all.

Diana: Snarking is fun. There’s nothing else on, which is why I ended up watching the pilot in the first place.

Mahsino: I could do it if only to fill the summer snark void, but I’m gonna need more questionably racist material to snark on. It’s gonna be a rough class quarter and I need to flex my snark muscles. For further snark, might I suggest The Taking of Pelham 123? I found it to be a delightful mix of entertaining and horribly problematic from logic and, to a lesser extent, anti-racist points. Of course, it helps to go in with low expectations.

Erica: Not really, frankly. I got sick of medical dramas after overdosing on ER years ago — but if I was going to pick one to watch, it’d be something like this with a character like Christina. She impressed me … just not enough to buy cable again.
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To be honest, there was more than one instance when I thought, “Man, if Turk and Carla from Scrubs were here, the lack of Zach Braff would make for a pretty damn good show.” The clunky spots – Nurse Weepy, the Imperious Asian Doctor – were definitely clunkers. But Pinkett Smith looks, to me, like she’s definitely going all in with her character and not just using the show as a pit stop between film roles. So for my part, the pilot left me intrigued, at least enough to give it a sporting chance the rest of this summer.

Readers, your thoughts?