Posted: 06/20/2011

 

Hawthorne

(2009-)

by Phil Forsyth



Tuesdays 10/9C on TNT


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Hawthorne is a fantastic fit for Jada Pinkett Smith’s talents as an actress. The “take charge everyday superhero nurse” roll seems to come very naturally to her, and she’s certainly a powerful and imposing figure on screen. The character of Nurse Christine Hawthorne might be the ideal modern female role model with potential to transcend generational and gender gaps. So it’s a shame that the show’s lack of vision may soon doom it to an exclusive audience of older women with fewer daytime soap operas to follow.

The love triangle between a dreamy doctor (Michael Vartan) and a dark/mysterious detective (Marc Anthony), the sudden plot twists, baby drama…all that’s currently missing is an evil twin. This is a by-the-numbers daytime drama airing in prime time and aimed at a demographic. But those who do tune in are not unrewarded. While everyone is a little too young and pretty to be working in the same fantasy romance novel hospital setting, there is a little leftover grit borrowed from other (more successful) hospital dramas to give the show some kick. We don’t see a lot of blood in Hawthorne but not because it pulls any punches. And those punches are not only aimed at the battered and bruised patients.

Christine Hawthorne is put through every kind of violent emotional hell one might dream up as a test of her steeliness and humanity. And yet the handsome hunks floating around always seem stronger while doing little to contribute much to anything. From an empowerment standpoint, putting a woman through the ringer to show she can handle it seems like a questionable tactic. More disconcerting is the story’s implication that only this woman could handle it.

And the show’s creator is, after all, a man. John Masius had success with St. Elsewhere (1982-1988), a much more imaginative venture to say the least. But Hawthorne is produced by Pinkett Smith herself, and whatever happens with the show from here, the intentions would seem genuine. Still predictably, Season Three begins right away hinting at Christine’s continuing compulsive uncertainty and preoccupation regarding her male-dominated relationship(s). It’s a sure sign that this will be an ongoing and defining trait of the show’s central character: a most disappointing gender stereotype.

Hawthorne’s real strength is in subtlety. The storyline seems stretched and unreal when it goes for gusto. But credit where it’s due, nothing much happens for long stretches at a time, and it’s nice to let the more genuine drama simmer. It’s where you notice two people falling in love without saying it over a season’s worth of long looks and pauses that make this kind of prime time drama worth watching. It’s the forced strain of a derivative romantic plot line that spoils it. But every once in a while, you do look forward to an amnesia or evil twin twist in a soap opera, and at it’s core, that is exactly what Hawthorne strives to be.

Or maybe it’s all in a snow globe (See St. Elsewhere for reference). TV seems to be falling behind. After all, the key demographic for this show would likely be the women who stopped watching daytime soaps because they are now, well…out of the house.

Phil Forsyth is a musician, filmmaker, and writer living in Chicago.



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