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Edie Falco’s Jackie is Part Heroic, All Flawed

The drab-green hospital hallways plied by Edie Falco in "Nurse Jackie" have been painstakingly created at a studio here, not far from The Sopranos' soundstage, by Bob Shaw, the production designer who created Carmela's kitchen.

Steve Buscemi, the Mob drama's ill-fated Tony Blundetto, is back, directing several episodes. And fans will surely remember Paul Schulze, who played Father Phil — the object of Carmela's unrequited crush — as Eddie, the hospital pharmacist.

It's not a Sopranos reunion but merely a comfort zone for Edie Falco, who stars in the Showtime series premiering Monday (10:30 p.m. ET/PT) and counts Schulze as "one of my best friends."

Though Carmela and Jackie are thick-skinned characters, they're vastly different. Carmela was the dutiful wife who mostly looked the other way, while Jackie is more complicated: heroic as a nurse, yet deeply flawed — and bitingly comic — as a person. She's a recovered alcoholic ("I like to have a clear head") yet snorts Adderall and downs painkillers to keep herself going.

And then there's her looks. "I liked that she was low-maintenance physically, not just because it's less time in hair and makeup, but it says something very different about a person," Falco says.

"She's very tough and to the point, (and) I have such immense curiosity about people like that, how they are able to go through their lives without a lot of concern as to how they're being perceived or whether people like them. She's really very willful in her way; she really does believe that she does know what's best."

Falco also liked the "scarier, uglier side of life" depicted in a New York City emergency room, a setting that has "always been shocking to me. I've always been a fan of hospital documentaries, always been captivated by personalities that choose to do this." (Not so much for other fictional dramas like Grey's Anatomy, which "just never appeal to me.")

In that high-pressure setting, Jackie cuts corners, falsifying an organ-donor card and stealing cash from a diplomat. "She's very good at what she does, but she's certainly not perfect," Falco says. It's good to "see people with flaws, and also to know that it doesn't make them bad people; it makes them confused, troubled and struggling like everybody is."

The hospital staff includes Dr. Eleanor O'Hara (Eve Best), Jackie's confidante; stern hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith); "Mo-Mo" de la Cruz (Haaz Sleiman), a male nurse; Zoey Barkow (Merritt Wever), an annoyingly eager nurse trainee; and Dr. Fitch Cooper (Peter Facinelli), a cocky young internist.

"I'm like the annoying little brother she wishes she never had," Facinelli says. "She has the power over me, and it shouldn't be that way."

The show wasn't an easy sell. Jackie started as a dark, surreal script about a New York City nurse. Showtime handed the project to writer-producers Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem for revamping; they had recently received bad news about their own Showtime pilot, Insatiable.

Aside from a four-episode stint on NBC's "30 Rock," Falco hadn't acted since "The Sopranos" abruptly cut to black two years ago.

She was interested in the role but wouldn't commit without a script. The writers had 10 days. "Our job was to write a script about a nurse that Edie would want to play," Brixius recalls. "So we sat and we thought, 'What is Edie bait?' "

Fortunately, they found something that "activated my insides," Falco says. Like Falco, they've been sober for years. And like their would-be Showtime project, they centered it on what they knew: "This is a character who's struggling with addiction," Brixius says. "We understood that, and we understood the secrets that you keep and we understood the ways you compromise yourself when you're in the hunt for a fix."

Adds Wallem: "It's the heart and blood of an addiction, the thrill of getting away with it."

But as the 12-episode season progresses, Jackie begins to lose control over the efficiency she brings to her job and her life as her secrets are revealed.

Like "Weeds" (returning Monday for its fifth season), Jackie veers from broad comedy to dark drama in the space of a half-hour.

But Jackie marks a departure for Showtime by focusing on a more down-to-earth, real-world profession. "Dexter's a serial killer, Mary-Louise (Parker) deals pot in a high-end suburb, ("Californication'''s) Hank Moody is a celebrated writer, and Tara (in "United States of Tara") has split personalities," Brixius says. Jackie's "not ambling through really wacky circumstances in life, which is the template for a lot of these shows. Here's a woman triumphing over a lot of pressure in a really ordinary life, and that's what people can relate to."

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