Friday, May 16, 2014
There are days I am not the woman I would like to be and when I am very lucky, they coincide with a new episode of “Nurse Jackie.”
Here are a few of the things Jackie, a pill-popping addict played by Edie Falco on Showtime, has done lately: Lied to her 12-step sponsor that she stopped taking drugs. Lied to her cop boyfriend that she stopped taking drugs. Had sex in a bathroom with a drug dealer to score free drugs. Stole the ID of a doctor she works with to write prescriptions for drugs. Borrowed a snazzy leather jacket belonging to the drug dealer’s girlfriend without the girlfriend’s knowledge.
That, to me, was hitting bottom: It would be like putting on the wife’s bathrobe, if you were fooling around with a married man. It is something the Other Woman is not permitted to do, even if you are naked and the house is on fire. You stay in there and die.
I, too, have days where I behave badly: Dodging a call from an old friend planning to renew her marriage vows. Telling another friend how self-congratulatory and obnoxious marriage renewal ceremonies are. Covertly checking my email while a friend talks about the imminent death of her dog.
When they’re done, I can settle back with Showtime and I think, “But, at least I’m not as bad as Jackie.” I have these delicious waves of moral superiority like you cannot believe. It may be better than sex.
But there is one thing about the show that confuses me. Despite all her drug habit, Jackie is such a great nurse, I keep thinking, so what’s wrong with drugs? It’s having to sneak around that makes Jackie do bad things like lying, having sex with drug dealers, and stealing other people’s IDs.
True, I am usually in the dark about what drugs Jackie is taking and their side effects. It would be helpful if there were a crawl on the bottom of the screen: Nurse Jackie is now taking three 10-milligram tablets of OxyContin. This substance has been proven to enhance one’s ability to balance on a counter in a club bathroom while having sex.
It should be noted, however, that Jackie confines her bad behavior to herself and her family — her patients are spared. She destroys her marriage, messes up her two young daughters and ruins romantic relationships. And she does this with a complete lack of guilt, a state I have sought to achieve my whole life, much as a Buddhist monk seeks bliss.
I think that is why the show is such a hit. With “Nurse Jackie” you do not have a heroine who is smarter, nicer and more emotionally evolved than you, but whose behavior makes you feel so much better about yourself. I could steal a cab out from under the nose of a guy on crutches and still go back to my mantra: “At least I’m not Nurse Jackie.”
You sure didn’t find this kind of behavior in the TV heroines of my youth. Lois Lane, while she hankered after an unattainable guy from another planet, remained perky and indefatigable — she didn’t do shots in the bathroom of The Daily Planet when Superman didn’t call. Mary Tyler Moore worried so much about doing the right thing she had anxiety attacks. Lucy might have a horrible day, say at a candy factory, and she never even smoked a joint — and she was married to a band leader.
I don’t find a lot of heroines that make me feel better by comparison now. Alicia, in “‘The Good Wife,” with her unswayable moral compass who always knows the right thing to tell her children? Peggy, the secretary turned chief copywriter on “Mad Men,” who while lately short-tempered with her staff, takes coming up with those stupid ads seriously? The Mother of Dragons in “Game of Thrones” who’s so impressively decisive?(Crucify them! Invade that! Put those heads on a spike in that corner of the living room! No, not there, that’s too close to the dragons’ scratching post!)
I can take three days deciding whether to buy a pair of shoes.
But Jackie? Where are we in her life? She makes it with the drug dealer, then, about two hours later, jumps into the boyfriend’s arms and tells him how happy she is to see him. She yells at her ex-husband’s new fiancée for taking her daughter shopping because she has no impulse control, then learns they were buying a gift for her. She attends her one year of sobriety party stoned.
And, she has yet to return that snazzy jacket she never should have touched in the first place.
Really, I can’t get enough.
Joyce Wadler is a humorist and writer in New York. Her books include “My Breast” and “Cured: My Ovarian Cancer Story.”
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