The phone rings, a hurried conversation and Nurse Christina Hawthorne dashes to the hospital, avoiding security and helping a wandering elderly patient as she rushes to console a friend and fatally ill cancer patient from jumping off the roof. She fails. Soon after, she's arrested under protest for roughing up the security guard. So goes the first few minutes from the pilot episode of TNT's latest drama, Hawthorne starring Jada Pinkett Smith.
As the episode progresses we're given a day-in-the-life of a hospital from the views of the often unsung heroes - the nurses. While much of the show involves the often trivial tasks that take place throughout the day, the supporting characters and their stories slowly start to manifest peaking your curiosity and drawing you in.
We meet the boyish chief of surgery, Thomas Wakefield (Michael Vartan, Alias) who glides in a out of scenes with Smith who feels more like an extra than a co-star. Then there's hard as nails nurse Bobbie Jackson (Suleka Mathew, Men In Trees), who acts as Hawthorne's right hand and delivers the much needed shoulder most of the more inexperienced nurses turn to.
Unfortunately, the often unnatural dialog and predictable plots makes the field of nursing seem not only lackluster but boring. There's not a lot of action, extensive medical jargon or unusual medical conditions to beef up the mystique of hospitals as most of these divisive medical dramas tend to use. Instead you're giving solemn and often unrewarding views that build up to syrupy emotional payoffs as each episode concludes.
The saving grace (pun intended) of the show is its main character who anchors as medical maverick and mother hen to her many charges while trying to keep the same focus with her teenage daughter, Camile (Hannah Hodson).
Smith is always a delight to watch. Her chiseled features and steely glazes makes you want to take the hour long ride, throw you hands up and hope for the best. As always, she tends to waffle between her "girlfriend" shtick and an over-enunciating soccer mom, which hits and misses with each episode. But as whole, her various personas give the show a much needed injection of personality and charm that makes the show worth watching. Also, be on the lookout for the scene stealing guest appearances that make the show more bearable amongst its many slow points.
Its not surprising to learn the show is penned by veteran writer John Masius who's no stranger to TV medical dramas. Masius was a writer and producer of the Emmy winning series St. Elsewhere, L.A. Law, Showtime's Dead Like Me and Providence among others so Hawthorne isn't a far cry from his bread and butter style of story telling.
Personally, I am glad to see Jada Pinkett Smith return to television. This is her first appearance on the small screen in over 13 years after her stint on the Cosby spin off A Different World. Consequently, Hawthorne sets a television milestone as the second series featuring an African-American female lead. Not since Diahann Carrol's show Julia in the late 60's has this occurred.
Hawthorne seems to stall out the gate, but has a trump in the fiery yet seductive energy of Smith which may make it a must-see as the series progresses.
Hawthorne airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on TNT.