In the battle of the premium cable channels, Showtime vs. HBO, Showtime seems to be winning on the comedy front. While HBO's recent comedy series -- "Hung," "Bored to Death," "How to Make It in America" -- tend to be fairly humorless character studies, Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" and "United States of Tara" entertain effortlessly.
Of these two Showtime programs, "Jackie" remains the superior effort thanks to its writing and a top-of-their-game cast headed by Edie Falco as the title character.
In the first-season finale, pill-popping mom/cheating wife Jackie appeared to overdose while at work, collapsing on the floor. The new season picks up sometime after that, and there's no sense in tonight's premiere (at 10) that any of her co-workers are aware of the incident.
Viewers first see Jackie at the beach with her family, including loving husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) and distraught daughter Grace (Ruy Jerins), who develops an obsession with safety and household appliances in next week's episode.
When: 10 tonight, Showtime.
Starring: Edie Falco.
Jackie's affair with now-former hospital pharmacist Eddie (Paul Schulze) remains under wraps from her husband, but Eddie finds a new way into Jackie's life in tonight's season premiere written by executive producers Liz Bixus and Linda Wallem.
Momo (Haaz Sleimann), one of the nurses last season and a good friend to Jackie, is no longer working at All Saints Hospital. There is one reference to him in tonight's episode, but no explanation of his departure is given through the first four episodes of the new season. Thor (Stephen Wallem, brother of the executive producer) has now stepped up to be Jackie's best gay pal, with whom she commiserates in the hospital chapel.
"Why is it the things that are so bad for you make you feel the best?" cake-loving, diabetic Thor asks Jackie as she checks her phone to find a text message from Eddie.
A temp nurse from an episode last season, Sam (Arjun Gupta), a junkie wise to Jackie's secret, returns, now sober, and begins a full-time job at All Saints, much to Jackie's annoyance.
Arrogant loser Dr. Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli) obsesses over garnering Twitter followers. He also files a complaint against Jackie in tonight's premiere. Dr. O'Hara (Eve Best) embarks on inappropriate escapades in upcoming episodes.
The show's best supporting player from season one, actress Merritt Wever as nurse Zoey, continues to brighten the series with her sweet naivete and well-meaning befuddlement. In next week's episode she bonds with a man nicknamed "God" because he renders judgment on passersby from his apartment window across the street from the hospital.
"Jackie" works for many reasons, including its ability to make the title character sympathetic. In spite of the infidelity and pill-popping that should make Jackie a despicable character, she remains likeable because of the care she shows with patients. Whatever her personal demons, she always strives to help the helpless at All Saints.
And then there's the humor. While too many premium cable comedies offer little in the way of laughs, "Jackie" charms the brain and tickles the funnybone. In an upcoming episode, Dr. O'Hara gets angry when another doctor is named to a list of the Top 25 doctors in New York.
"Does it help to know you're in my all-time Top 5?" Mrs. Akatlitus (Anna Deavere Smith) says to Dr. O'Hara, who is satisfied for a moment and then quickly asks, "Wait, who are the other four?"
It's a representative "Nurse Jackie" moment, one that's funny and relatable for its roots in flawed humanity.
TV editor Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.