Nurse Jackie is almost enough to return my faith in television to deliver interesting female characters and plot lines, particularly roles for older female actors.
Season two just finished on US television, and I hear it will probably arrive on UK screens later this year.
Jackie, played by Edie Falco, is a nurse working at All Saints, with a dead-pan humour and House-like attitude to the rules. She is also caught up in a network of lies: just for example, she has concealed the fact she is married and has two children from almost all her co-workers. She’s addicted to, and gets into various scrapes getting hold of, prescription drugs – including, it seems, an affair with the hospital pharmacist. In short, Jackie is a complex, surprisingly sympathetic central character – in a cast which includes several other interesting/hilarious women – and several fantastic roles for older female characters, such as best-friend Doctor O’Hara (Eve Best) and nurse manager Gloria (Anna Deavere Smith).
Natalie Wilson even wrote at Ms Magazine that Edie Falco’s character represents a “feminist id”:
Jackie’s pleasure-seeking self can be read as a reaction to the confines of the patriarchal world. As a nurse (and a woman), she is supposed to be selfless and outward-directed, nurturing and caring. Who cares about her chronic pain and 24-hour work/life demands? Her feminist id responds “F you” to the nurturing/suffering paradigm, and she ingests drugs to numb the pain of daily life.
Actor Katey Sagal, who plays the motorcycle club matriarch on Sons of Anarchy, (albeit a show with some problematic gender-role issues) said recently:
I don’t know why it’s changed, but I’m really grateful it has. Maybe it has to do with the fact that we’re all living longer and suddenly it’s okay to get older. Maybe there’s a broader audience for these characters. The stories you can tell about older women are deeper.
Plus, cable has opened up enormous possibilities. In feature films, you’re still lucky if you’re not the girlfriend or the wife. But I just read yesterday that Dianne Keaton is going to be on television now, she’s doing a series with HBO, so TV is where our stories are being told.
Are things… actually changing for the better? At least in terms of US imports? Of course it’s not all good news, as the fact that shows such as Nurse Jackie are remarkable demonstrates. Treme, for example, has been criticised for the low numbers of female musicians in an otherwise-music-centred universe:
So far, the only woman represented is violinist Annie, played by Lucia Micarelli. Even then, we know very little about the character beyond her classical training and that her keyboardist boyfriend Sonny Schilder (Michiel Huisman) gets jealous when she plays other male musicians’ gigs. At this point, she doesn’t even have a last name.