There are few real directions, it seems, in which a hospital-based show can take. It almost goes without saying that every hospital on every television show finds itself strapped for cash (or that a hospital administrator will at some point lament a big donor backing out) and will be threatened with closure. What Hawthorne, TNT's nurse-based medical drama, does differently in its season premiere is that they actually close the hospital. Quite seriously, within the first few minutes of the season opener, Richmond Trinity Hospital closes.
That is both a good and a bad thing for the series. Christina Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett Smith, who is also an executive producer), the chief nursing officer at Richmond Trinity had everything perfectly organized at that hospital. Oh sure, she had huge issues in her personal life and there was always a fire to put out at the hospital, but she ran a pretty tight ship. To have her argue with her boss, John Morrissey (James Morrison), on a weekly basis about how she was going to have to do more with less could have provided a less than enticing season-long storyline.
On the downside, the way the series keeps everyone together is by sending them to work at the only other hospital in the area, James River. While that might be kind of silly, it's acceptable in a TV necessity kind of way. The issue is that in the first two episodes the series very quickly pits the Trinity staffers against the River ones, with the River ones uniformly come up wanting. With no real exception, the James River nursing staff is incompetent or lazy or mean or some combination of all three. Beyond the mean nursing staff, James River also has an incredibly low rating… and is in danger of closing. It is all too easy and, as Hawthorne and Morrissey both note, it certainly seems as though the wrong hospital was closed.
The James River nursing staff, led by Gail Strummer (Vanessa Bell Calloway), is drawn in an incredibly broad fashion and without any sort of redeeming value. One has to assume that by the end of the season the oh-so-perfect Trinity staffers – Bobbie Jackson (Suleka Mathew), Candy Sullivan (Christina Moore), Kelly Epson (Vanessa Lengies), and Ray Stein (David Julian Hirsh) – will have convinced the James River folks of the error of their ways. One has to believe that good will triumph over evil, or that James River will close and Richmond Trinity will reopen. I certainly hope that the show figures out a way around that pitfall, it would be great if the evil staffers remain and remain evil, but that doesn't seem a very likely route.
This season-long potential plot issue is actually the one fault of an otherwise well-scripted, well-acted show. Jada Pinkett Smith is excellent as Christina Hwathorne and the potential blossoming romance between her and Dr. Tom Wakefield (Michael Vartan) is deal with in both a realistic and touching fashion. Wakefield was a good friend of Hawthorne's now deceased husband and that is something the two are going to have to struggle with should the relationship proceed.
Hawthorne, despite being the second of three nurse-based shows to premiere in 2009 has managed to make room for itself on television. Although some of the characters certainly fall into broad categories that you could easily see on one of the other shows – Stein is the male nurse; Epson is the bright-eyed newbie, though somewhat less so this year – Hirsh, Lengies, and the rest of the cast do manage to create memorable depictions. Particularly good is Mathew as Bobbie Jackson, a character whose biggest fault is that she is simply not given enough screen time.
Watching Hawthorne you are not really going to see anything very new nor anything very different, but on the whole what they do they do well. Hopefully over the course of the season we will see that producers have come up with a far more interesting way of mixing the James River and Trinity nursing staff than they show in the first two episodes. That may not seem very likely at this moment, but it is certainly a possibility.
Hawthorne's second season premieres June 22 at 9pm on TNT.