In the US: Wednesdays, 8/7c, NBC
There’s a long and honourable tradition in US drama of characters returning from war and getting new day jobs. Whether it was Korea (Kelly Robinson – I Spy), Nam (Michael Knight – Knight Rider, Stringfellow Hawke – Airwolf), the Gulf War (Major John MacGillis – Major Dad), Afghanistan (Colby Granger – Numb3rs) or Iraq (Justin Walker – Brothers and Sisters), the characters come back, sometimes messed up, sometimes not.
But they sure as hell want to talk about it a lot.
Very, very infrequently, however, are these characters women, which makes Mercy something of a novelty. Set in a hospital of the same name, it follows the lives of three nurses – including one Iraq war veteran – as they try to cope with patients, the staff and their own lives.
Ordinarily, that would be interesting enough you’d have thought: nurses are highly trained professionals, yet are always regarded as “not as good as a doctor”, even when they do more of the procedures and can often be more experienced. They see the real sharp end of things, and have to deal with the patients far more than doctors do, too.
But for some reason, the producers took what could have been a near-insightful drama and warped it into a never-ending discussion about how war is hell and messes you up – and boyfriends. It’s still moderately interesting, but you know what? War – and boyfriend bitching – is also hell to listen to.
From creator/executive producer Liz Heldens (NBC’s “Friday Night Lights”), executive producers Gretchen Berg & Aaron Harberts (“Pushing Daisies”) and Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun comes “Mercy,” a new medical drama about the lives of the people who work at Mercy Hospital seen through the eyes of those who know it best — its nurses.
Nurse Veronica Flanagan Callahan (Taylor Schilling “Dark Matter”) has just returned to Mercy Hospital from a tour in Iraq and knows more about medicine than all of the residents combined. Together with fellow nurses Sonia Jimenez (Jaime Lee Kirchner, “Rescue Me”), who turns the heads of everyone in the hospital and Chloe Payne (Michelle Trachtenberg, “Gossip Girl”), a naïve newcomer who learns to deal with the difficulties of working in a challenging and sometimes unsettling profession, they navigate the daily traumas and social landmines of life and love both inside the hospital and out in the real world.
The cast also includes James Tupper (“Men in Trees”) as Dr. Chris Sands, a new doctor at the hospital who complicates Veronica’s life, Diego Klattenhoff (“Supernatural”) as Mike Callahan, Veronica’s estranged husband, Guillermo Diaz (“Weeds”) as Nurse Angel Lopez and James Le Gros as Dr. Harris (“Ally McBeal”).
Is it any good?
It’s a bit of a hodgepodge. It makes a reasonable effort at being smarter than a lot of dramas and not having the usual stereotypes of women and nurses. But it doesn’t quite manage to make the result interesting.
Iraq war veteran Veronica is the traditional loner bucking the system, her experiences with war and war medicine making her far more skilled than most of the doctors in her hospital. Despite having anger management issues from the war and a screwed up relationship with her husband – and her boyfriend – she’s actually very likeable: it’s a shame for the show that Nurse Jackie got their first so recently with a screwed up but likeable lead nurse character.
Jaime Lee Kirchner’s character is not especially involving, although not bad in and of herself, but her relationship with her cop boyfriend has so far proven infinitely predictable.
Michelle Trachtenberg’s character, however, is utterly implausible: a nurse who somehow managed to get her Masters without having any real-kind of patient interaction and is utterly naive and helpless when faced with difficult patients. Seriously, she managed to find a nursing course that never did placements? That’s science-fiction.
So it’s a show that would like to show warts and all nursing – in the vein of No Angels – but doesn’t quite have the guts to do it, doesn’t seem to have done the research to see what goes on and fill the plots with real-world grit, and doesn’t quite believe that any of this nursing business is going to be sufficiently interesting to the predominantly female audience anyway. So there’s more drama in and more attention paid to the Iraq war and the nurses’ relationships with their boyfriends than there is to their jobs.
The relationships depicted are sufficiently lacking in depth that it’s hard to really care about them. James Tupper is basically doing a nicer version of his Men in Trees character (ie he stands around waiting for girlfriend Veronica to do interesting things, rather than doing any interesting things himself), while Diego Klattenhoff is a stereotypical meathead. Heaven help us as well if we have to see too much of Guillermo Diaz, the campest male nurse since the 1950s.
Still, as the final shot of the pilot tries to demonstrate, it’s all going to be about ‘friendship’ (chicks dig shows about chicks who are friends with one another), so maybe it’ll liven up as the trio of nurses get to interact properly, without fights breaking out among the men every five minutes. We’ll see, but with two out of the three main characters not especially inspiring, I have strong doubts this will prove to be a popular show.