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‘Nurse Jackie’ Brings a Dose of Excellence

TV's summer health would have been much less robust without Nurse Jackie.

Granted, this fabulous Showtime series, which wraps up its first season tonight, hasn't been the hot months' only hot show. It has been an unusually crowded off-season slate, with three great returning dramas in True Blood, Rescue Me and Mad Men; the dependable lesser pleasures of The Closer, Burn Notice and Leverage; and such new escapist favorites as Warehouse 13, Drop Dead Diva and Royal Pains.

Yet even with all those summer joys, Jackie was a standout and, when it comes to its phenomenal star, Edie Falco, something of a revelation. Anyone who ever watched The Sopranos knew, of course, that Falco was a terrifically talented actress. What we didn't know was the full range of her talents and how spectacularly well she would carry her own show.

What's truly amazing is that a performance that started out strong has gotten better as Jackie's situation has gotten worse. That has never been more true than in tonight's startling cliffhanger as all of Jackie's drug-driven efforts to balance her job and her personal life, and her husband and her lover, seem headed for collapse.

If Jackie's life has spiraled out of control, Falco's performance hasn't. She has resisted all temptations to overdo and overplay, despite the openings that Jackie's addictions and infidelities have offered. (You can just imagine the hysterics some actors would have brought to the scene in which Jackie breaks her own finger.) Instead it has been a performance of remarkable honesty, economy and restraint, and it has been all the more beautiful and moving for it.

Though it's impossible to imagine Jackie without Falco, she isn't the only reason to watch tonight's smartly written closer. There's excellent work from Paul Schulze as Eddie, whose collapse has mirrored Jackie's own. And on the lighter side, you have Cooper's sudden crush and Zoe's continued trauma over her film critic's (Victor Garber) coma.

If there's one downside, it's that Anna Deavere Smith's Mrs. Akalitis still seems designed to provide more comic relief than the show really needs. But at least her crisis this week tops being self-tasered or accidentally drugged.

There is one other downside: After tonight, Jackie won't be back until next summer. But it is coming back, and that's good news indeed.

TV's looking healthier already.

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