TV Review: TNT’s Overly Earnest ‘HawthoRNe’ Won’t Cure Summer TV Blues

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CHICAGOTNT’s medical drama “HawthoRNe” would have felt overly generic in any month of the year, but debuting in the same one as Showtime’s far darker, subtler and more entertaining “Nurse Jackie” does the show no favors at all. Jada Pinkett Smith executive-produces and stars in a well-intentioned program with a good pedigree (John Masius of “St. Elsewhere” is one of the producers) but one that feels like a relic of a bygone era of more manipulative television. Television Rating: 2.0/5.0
Television Rating: 2.0/5.0

The premiere of “HawthoRNe” introduces us to the title character, Nurse Christina Hawthorne, on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death. Hawthorne is the Chief Nursing Officer at Richmond Trinity Hospital, leading a group of nurses against two-dimensional doctors always trying to screw them over and patients who need them to survive.

Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan.
Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan.
Photo credit: Erik Heinila/TNT

The first episode of “HawthoRNe” features a homeless woman stuck in a horrible situation, a doctor who ignores a nurse when he corrects her error, and even family drama with the mother (Joanna Cassidy) of Christina’s deceased husband. It also actually features a character saying to Hawthorne, “It’s you against the system.”

It’s dialogue like that sinks all the effort on the part of Smith, Vartan, and the rest of the talented cast. TNT has carved a niche with strong female characters like the ones on “The Closer” and “Saving Grace,” but it’s impossible for Smith to feel genuine and believable with so much generic TV writing around her.

David Julian Hirsh, Christina Moore, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan, Suleka Mathew.
David Julian Hirsh, Christina Moore, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan, Suleka Mathew.
Photo credit: Robert Trachtenberg/TNT

Jada Pinkett Smith and co-star Michael Vartan (“Alias”) are undeniably good actors but they’re left stranded by two-dimensional, overly earnest, manipulative writing, at least in the series premiere. There is enough talent in front of the camera and behind it that “Hawthorne” could develop into something more interesting, but I can only judge based on the premiere episode that was sent.

There’s so much going in the first episode of “HawthoRNe” - character introductions mixed with single mother drama, a suicide attempt, social commentary, a grieving wife, and generic medical mysteries - and yet none of it hits home. It’s all straight from the “medical drama” handbook with very few surprises. It all seems far too easy, even for the talented actors involved, and one has to wonder what drew the talented Smith to such safe, dull material.

As bad as the obvious dialogue, I equally couldn’t stand the way the doctors were turned into such obvious villains in the premiere. “Nurse Jackie” distinguishes between nurses and doctors so much more distinctly without turning the latter into the enemy. It’s not always nurse vs. doctor. They do have to work together. To be fair, Vartan plays a “good doctor,” the Chief of Surgery who also treated Christina’s husband.

Ultimately, “HawthoRNe” is simply yet another show about a hero with her own emotional problems trying to save lives. If the characters are given more time to breathe and allowed out from under the generic plotting of the premiere, the show has a chance to work, but the test of a first episode is whether or not you’ll return for the follow-up episode and it will be tough to check into this TV hospital again.

‘Hawthorne’ premieres on TNT on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 at 8pm CST. It stars Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Vartan, Suleka Mathew, David Julian Hirsh, Christina Moore, Hannah Hodson, and Joanna Cassidy. content director Brian Tallerico

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Anonymous's picture

this show has got to be the

this show has got to be the worst medical shows ever created in the whole history of the universe

i wonder how many episodes until it gets cancelled

Tara's picture

Hilarious review, Brian

You said it yourself TNT has carved a niche with its latest shows. Hawthorne should be taglined: “If you liked The Closer, Saving Grace, and Gray’s Anatomy Season1…”

You cannot compare it to Nurse Jackie. That’s like comparing Saving Grace to Weeds. Not everyone will pay extra $$ per month for Showtime to watch 1 TV show.
They are premium channels for a reason! You’re smart enough to know that network TV and cable TV WILL ALWAYS lean to the safe, Grandma-friendly(tm) storylines as well (read obvious, safe, dull). It is enjoyable and forgettable, like reading a newspaper(or TV show review).
Does it set me on fire and make me become an RN. Nope. Key thing is it’s enjoyable.

Not everyone watches the pilot of a series. Some Grandmas miss it and start up with Ep2 or 3. Not biggie what is set up in the pilot. The writers were just starting with “not all medical dramas have competent doctors, nurses are noteworthy too”, etc. Yes they were a little too blunt about it, but things can always change. I know that if they are too harsh on the doctors POV then people will complain (probably doctors and their families).

I’ll check out a couple of episodes and see if I like the characters. That is my thing.

Anonymous's picture


I LOVE LOVE LOVE HawthoRNe so much it is my favorite show I am so excited for season 2 and those of you who don’t support the show, keep hatin

zaire67's picture

To Bad, It's a Just too Bad

The show is just over the top. The lead character played by Smith is not likable at all. Her also knows what’s going on, I’m smarter than every doctor in the building, pity me my white husband died, permissive parenting skills are ridiculous. Her acting skills are severely lacking. I tried to watch the show several times over the last two years but find it completely unwatchable. Judging by the drop in ratings, I’m not the only one of this opinion.

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