Tuned In: Jada Pinkett Smith stars in TNT's 'Hawthorne'


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Often it's obvious why a network green lights a show. In the best scenario, networks are drawn to smart, entertaining scripts. Or maybe it's a provocative concept.

With TNT's "Hawthorne," network executives were probably eager to be in business with Jada Pinkett Smith, whose presence is the most compelling reason to watch this medical drama about nurses at a Richmond, Va., hospital.

Smith stars as chief nursing officer Christina Hawthorne but really, she's Saint Jada, an improbably unflappable, supportive, noble nurse who even promises to look into a janitor's complaint about getting stuck with inferior cleaning supplies.

Saint Jada has her faults but they're completely obscured by her positive attributes, which are many: Competent leader, compassionate mentor, giver of hugs and supporter of the neighborhood's mentally unstable homeless lady.

Unlike Showtime's recent "Nurse Jackie," "Hawthorne" definitely has cloying moments in the pilot episode written by series creator John Masius, best known for NBC's "Providence" and the discarded "Touched by an Angel" pilot where an angel resurrected a dead dog.

Viewers meet Hawthorne on the one-year anniversary of her husband's death, which she somehow had a hand in, although specifics have yet to be revealed.

Hawthorne's rich (re: mean) mother-in-law (guest star Joanna Cassidy) demands a turn with her son's ashes but before Hawthorne passes them along, she digs out two scoops of dead husband, saying she wants part of him to stay close to her ("Your heart, your soul"). Then she proceeds to dump the ashes in a basket attached to a balloon and sends the dead dude dirt sailing away.

Fans of subtlety are advised to steer clear of this show.

But viewers who prefer uncomplicated, pabulum-like TV could find worse programs on TV this summer -- and already have (e.g. NBC's "The Listener").

As uninspired as "Hawthorne" may be, it's still better than TNT's last medical drama, the Pittsburgh-set "Heartland." The "Hawthorne" pilot, directed by Mikael Solomon, moves like a freight train from the start and sustains a decent pace throughout. And "Hawthorne" shows potential for character development among the show's supporting players.

Michael Vartan ("Alias") plays the hospital's chief of surgery who has some chemistry with Hawthorne that could play out deeper into the series. Suleka Mathew ("Men in Trees") stars as a fellow nurse and Hawthorne's best friend. Christina Moore ("90210") plays a nurse who, in the pilot, administers sexual relief to an injured soldier.

Smith is a winning TV star who's adept at scenes that require great empathy or a withering stare. Given time (and more realistic characterizations), "Hawthorne" may grow into a series worthy of her talents.

Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.


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