Nobody talks about series television as a director's medium. People's idea of a strong voice in TV now is a writer-creator who sets a tone that the collaborative team that keeps the series going is expected to adhere to. Even when a movie director with a highly personal style and sensibility like David Lynch directs the pilot for a show like Twin Peaks, part of his job is to draft a visual/ tonal blueprint that a number of other directors will be working from on their own episodes. Still, even when it comes to shooting the script for the latest Nurse Jackie, which is expected to look more or less like all the other episodes and have the same kind of focus and humor, it stands to reason that some directors are better at it than others.
Which is my way of suggesting that it may not be a coincidence that tonight's episode, which was directed by Michael Lehmann, felt a lot slacker than the first two episodes of the current season, both of which were directed by Steve Buscemi. Buscemi has directed a couple of highly watchable movies and a fair amount of TV, including "Pine Barrens", everybody's favorite of all the episodes of The Sopranos in which Tony is a supporting character; he's great with actors and has a sure touch with wry, deadpan dark comedy, assets that put a show like Jackie right at the center of his wheelhouse. Lehman is a busy pro who was widely taken for a promising major up-and-comer twenty-two years ago, when his first film, Heathers, came out, and who's spent the rest of his movie career (Hudson Hawk, My Giant, 40 Days and 40 Nights) doing his best to clear up that little misunderstanding. He's also directed episodes of every TV series from The Larry Sanders Show and The Comeback to Wonderfalls, but this was his first crack at a Nurse Jackie, and I'm not sure he really got the hang of the formula on his virgin try.
"Play Me" belongs to one of the least-loved of all sub-genres of TV series episodes, the one where all the regulars celebrate a grand reunion with a character they act as if they've known all their lives, while the viewer squints at the set and struggles to remember whether he's ever laid eyes on this stranger before. (Steve Buscemi, in his day job as America's most beloved rodent-like character actor, has some experience with this phenomenon. He played Tony Soprano's namesake cousin, soulmate, and closest childhood friend, who nobody ever even mentioned until the fifth season, presumably because being reminded that he had been torn from the bosom of his family by the penal system would have made everybody too depressed to lift their arms to tip their strippers.)
The surprise guest tonight was Kevin's sister Tunie, who showed up at the family breakfast table to announce that she needed a safe haven in which to recover from her latest romantic misfortune; Jackie was quick to assume that Kevin had in fact installed her in the home to help keep tabs on her. The show tried to compensate for the fact that the people onscreen knew her so much better than we did by making everything she said and did so familiar, in that stock "jaded, single in-law/aunt with wild ways" mold, that it was possible to react to the first shot of her by feeling as if you've been watching her for half an hour every week for the past fifteen years and could really use a break from her. Tunie is played by Jamie Alexander, a young brunette actress who was in the ABC Family series Kyle XY and has a role in Thor, and who looks and acts like whoever stands on the mark that Parker Posey will need to hit after they finish adjusting the lights.
There were other drop-in visits from characters who have actually been seen on the show before, some of whom were more welcome than others. God, the schizophrenic who could be seen last season leaning out of a high window screaming insults at passers-by, found an abandoned piano on the street and smuggled it into the hospital. It was whimsical as all get-out. God, who offered Zoey some romantic counseling, also seemed to be possessed of the wisdom of the heart. I liked him better when he just gave people shit about their comb-overs. There was also an overdue return appearance by Bill Sage as the well-groomed drug dealer who Jackie ripped off last season. It turned out that he was a recovery counselor turned dealer who bore no hard feelings and was eager to offer his services to Jackie, who he pegged as an addict slowly advancing on a meltdown so spectacular that he wanted to reserve a ringside seat. Sage, who looks like the son Robert Redford doesn't talk about, seemed to enjoy the sheer gaudiness of the character, and he and Edie Falco managed to set off some sparks and pinwheels in their diner conversation.
Aside from that, I thought the most enjoyable thing about this episode was a throwaway moment out of a silent comedy, with Zoey and Lenny sitting in front of the hospital having lunch, complete with Lenny suavely uncapping her Dr. Pepper. It was too bad that it turned into a scene in which Zoey breaks a filling by biting into her sandwich, because Lenny, in his idea of a romantic gesture, has put his apartment key in it. (Zoey kept repeating that this was like something she'd seen in a movie, failing to specify that it was like something you'd see in a movie on a plane and still consider walking out.) This, in turn, led to God refereeing a couples therapy session between Zoey and Lenny; they talked about how his moving too fast with their relationship made her feel anxious, which was so deadly they had bring Akalitus in to clear the room. The lunch scene sort of summed up what was right, and what wasn't, about this lesser episode of Nurse Jackie: there was some stuff that was sweet and funny, but too often, it was there to lead to someplace you didn't want to go.
- "That's the first time in two years you've got my name right. You've called me 'Sport', 'Chief', 'Weejun', and 'Grande D.', which I assume stands for 'Big Diabetic'."
- "I have to tell you something. Aunt Tunie's pilot needs space. What's a sugar daddy?"
- Seriously, what's the deal with Akalitus' share of the scripts? The stuff about her having to contend with having the artwork looted from the hospital chapel may have been even lamer than the stuff last week about the campaign to stamp out fat kids.