Television review

Nurses need to inject some originality into ‘Mercy’

From left: Jaime Lee Kirchner, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Taylor Schilling play nurses on “Mercy.’’ From left: Jaime Lee Kirchner, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Taylor Schilling play nurses on “Mercy.’’ (Andrew Eccles/Nbc)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 23, 2009

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What’s it like in a meeting when TV producers build a hospital drama like NBC’s new “Mercy’’? Is it like a group Lego project - put the arrogant doctor here, put the new nurse who gets puked on here, put the storage closet where staff hook up here? Do the creators have fun piecing such a prefabricated show together, or is it a chore? And is “Grey’s Anatomy’’ actually named, or is it left tacit, so as not to be spoken in vain?

“Mercy,’’ which premieres at 8 p.m. on Channel 7, is a bunch of played-out hospital clichés placed together in hopes of being the next “Grey’s.’’ The generic patients-of-the-week visit the show’s New Jersey hospital, from the brusque but brave lady with terminal cancer to the gang member who was shot. Meanwhile the nurses and doctors hover over the gurneys and worry about their love lives.

There are two slight twists in “Mercy.’’ The lead character, nurse Veronica Callahan (Taylor Schilling), is just back from a tour in Iraq, and she’s a bundle of nerves. When novice nurse Chloe (Michelle Trachtenberg) says she’s sad about an elderly man’s lonely death, Veronica jumps down her throat: “You want to see sad, you go down to the pediatric burn unit and treat a 6-year-old Iraqi kid who got his arms blown off because he thought a bomb was a toy.’’ Veronica’s post-traumatic issues are not treated with subtlety, and the stiff Schilling doesn’t evoke much sympathy. Veronica is in a love triangle with her husband and a fellow vet (James Tupper) who also happens to be newly employed at her hospital, but you may find it hard to feel her pain.

“Mercy’’ also tries to distinguish itself by focusing primarily on the nurses, like Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie’’ and TNT’s “HawthoRNe.’’ Before we get very far into the premiere, the writers have reminded us repeatedly that we’re rooting for the nurses, that they are treated really poorly. The show’s arrogant doctors toss insults at these women (and the requisite gay man), but we know they are hands-on saviors. After Veronica saves a man who was in a car accident, his obnoxious fiance snaps at her, “You’re just some stupid nurse.’’ You’re welcome.

It takes good writing and acting to lift this kind of overdone material to another level. “Nurse Jackie’’ succeeded as an incisive character study, largely on the strength of Edie Falco’s performance. But “Mercy’’ doesn’t promise to offer up any interesting revisions. It follows the hospital melodrama blueprint way too closely.

MERCY Starring: Taylor Schilling, James Tupper, Michelle Trachtenberg, Jaime Lee Kirchner, Delroy Lindo, James LeGros

On: NBC, Channel 7

Time: Tonight, 8-9

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