TNT’s ‘HawthoRNe’ Review, Jada Pinkett Smith has the goods

TNT is premiering a new noir comedy tinged drama about the travails of a nurse in the early stages of widowhood.  "HawthoRNe" is the latest from the network, starring Jada Pinkett Smith as Christina Hawthorne, a head nurse immersing herself in work to dull the pain of her husband’s recent death. <P></P> <P>Jada Pinkett Smith first came across my radar in “The Inkwell,” a film set in my home turf of Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She played a rich girl with attitude and stole the show. </P> <P>Years later, the Ozzfest starring, head banging wife of the top box office grossing actor, Will Smith, once again makes her own thunder and stars in a fine effort, “HawthoRNe," for TNT, home of the bad-ass female lead characters. </P> <P>TNT features Holly Hunter in Nancy Miller’s spiritual, sexy drama, “Saving Grace,” and Kyra Sedgwick as Brenda in “The Closer,” but Pinkett Smith’s Christina Hawthorne presents as a flawed and frightened head nurse doing her damndest to hide that fear, and keep everything in check.  </P> <P>Even her competition in Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” with the wonderful Edie Falco, would approve of Christina Hawthorne; she is quiet and seemingly mean, but the coolness is just a coping mechanism, as Hawthorne’s back-story is more tragic. </P> <P>Hawthorne is still healing from losing her beloved husband Michael.  The circumstances surrounding this death is a key piece of the puzzle to Hawthorne’s thorny relationship with her own daughter and her mother-in-law, played by Joanne Cassidy. </P> <P>Jada is stripped down, de-glamorized in "HawthoRNe," as the workaholic chief nursing officer of a Richmond, Va., hospital. Not since the 1968 smallscreen series “Julia” starring Diahann Carroll has there been a leading role in the medical field for an African-American actress on TV.  Like “Julia”, Hawthorne is also a widow trying to raise her child alone, and keep a job. </P> <P>Overwhelmed by life, grief and failure as a parent to connect with her only child, Christina Hawthorne has to pick each battle with a surgeon’s strike. </P> <P>It is the show’s heart and celebration of working people, specifically the drones of the medical world, the nurses, orderlies and underlings of the exalted Doctors, that make this show resonate. </P> <P>Combined with the casting of talent like Pinkett Smith and Michael Vartan as her sympathetic ally at the hospital, this show jumps from a mere procedural to something meatier you can sink your teeth into. </P> <P>The secondary cast shines and plays beautifully off Hawthorne’s wounded energy and you want to see more of them all, as each day in the hospital winds down. </P><EMBED src= width=560 height=340 type=application/x-shockwave-flash allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></EMBED> <P>"HawthoRNe" features Michael Vartan as Dr. Tom Wakefield, the oncologist who treated Christina’s husband and serves as Chief of Surgery for the hospital. Jada alluded that her character was to become more emotionally enmeshed with Varian’s Dr. Wakefield. Suleka Mathew shines as “damaged goods” nurse Bobbie Jackson -one of Hawthorne’s best friends; David Julian Hirsh is cast as Ray Stein, a headstrong male nurse who faces off with a careless Doctor in the first episode; Christina Moore plays Candy Sullivan, a nurse with a unique sense of duty; and Hannah Hodson is cast as Camille, Hawthorne’s angry daughter. Joanna Cassidy has great scenes with Jada, as she portrays Amanda, Hawthorne’s alpha-female mother-in-law, also a member of the hospital board. </P> <P>Smith spoke to Monsters and Critics at a recent press junket and revealed that realism was crucial, as her own mother was a nurse, and gave her notes for what rang true, and what fell flat. “My mother was quick to say that this part was right on, and this part needed work.” Jada added, “It was very important that we show our audience that everyday ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things." </P> <P>The back-story that features actress Joanna Cassidy in the first episode will be unraveled during the season. Jada told Monsters and Critics that the bad blood between them is based on a mother’s anger at her son’s career being derailed. “Not long into the season we will dive into some of Christina’s past life and unravel what happened with her and her husband, and why there is tension with the her daughter.” Jada added, "The tension is more about when they were young, and his education was interrupted when they became a couple and interacted, but there is no racial aspect to their back-story.” </P> <P>The series was created by John Masius, (St. Elsewhere) who took pages from his own life to create the soul of HawthoRNe, which celebrates the day in and day out of caring for people. </P> <P>Pinkett Smith revealed that "HawthoRNe" was set in Virginia, but shot locally in Los Angeles, “We shot at a closed hospital in Inglewood, the Daniel Freeman Hospital.” </P> <P>Michael Vartan sat next to Jada, and their off screen closeness mimicked their genuine chemistry in frame. "When I heard that Jada was involved in this project, I was completely sold,” shared her costar. “Immediately, that was it for me. I have great confidence in her storytelling and creative vision." </P> <P>The smallscreen production schedule has not been without sacrifice for Jada, who had to explain, while husband Will sat behind me, that the smallscreen production schedule was enormously disruptive to their family. Jada had to tell her children that they would not be seeing her as often, for many months. Jada said, "I had to tell my kids that mommy was not going to be there when they went to bed, and often times when they got up, so they got a few months of staying up late and eating whatever they wanted for breakfast, but it was a family decision and conversation that we had to have before I undertook this series.” </P> <P>Pinkett Smith has always followed her own path creatively, and rocks out with the best of them in her metal band, Wicked Wisdom. Not exactly what you would expect from an A-lister Hollywood wife, but Jada dwells in her east coast sensibilities and lack of pretention, and is the first to shed that Tinseltown cloak, recalling her Baltimore roots to reporters often. </P> <P>Jada also is quick to praise her partner, Will, in his ghost producing of “HawthoRNe, sharing that she was a pupil of his “expert ability” to construct story, and shape scenes. “You will even see him in bit parts doing a walk through,” laughed Jada, who quickly added “we can’t afford him in any other capacity.” </P> <P>Happy to be carving a legacy in the smallscreen world, Jada added, “I felt like I needed the experiences that TV can offer, there is a certain level of intensity… a gradient of story structure I needed some help with, and my husband is one of the ghost producers on the show, he is a fantastic story structuralist, and I am learning to understand how to hit those human emotional cores that resonate universally. I needed this television grind, like being in the gym, every week we create a movie, and each episode is a chapter. I can tackle a chapter of the book each week …there is no leisure time, everything is immediate, so for me, I need that kind of pressure to be on it, work in that grind." </P> &lt;P>When we asked if she might consider writing any episodes, Jada was resolute, "No, I won’t be writing, I am really trying to keep my hats to a minimum, and keep from veering from starring and producing." </P> <P>"HawthoRNe" unravels like a film in each weekly episode according to Jada. "Basically each episode is standalone, but we do have storylines that do continue with the characters whose arcs that do crossover." </P> <P>Based on the two episodes sent for review, "HawthoRNe" is well worth your time.</P> <P><EMBED src= width=425 height=344 type=application/x-shockwave-flash allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always"></P></EMBED>Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.

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