'Nurse Jackie' Ends As TV's Most Honest Depiction Of Addiction Showtime's dramedy Nurse Jackie begins its final season Sunday. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show offers television's most realistic depiction of a high functioning drug addict.

'Nurse Jackie' Ends As TV's Most Honest Depiction Of Addiction

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Jackie Peyton's story is coming to a close. She's the emergency room worker, mom and high functioning addict who's at the center of Showtime's "Nurse Jackie." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says what's extraordinary about the show is the very ordinary way it depicts one person's battle with addiction.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Even after an accident with a carload full of pills gets her arrested, Nurse Jackie Peyton can't be honest about her addictions - especially not while explaining her sudden absence to her ex-husband, Kevin.


DOMINIC FUMUSA: (As Kevin Peyton) Where were you this past week?

EDIE FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) Really? You want to know where I was? I went to a detox program.

FUMUSA: (As Kevin Peyton) Is that what you call jail? I was notified of the accident. The car is still in my name.

DEGGANS: Star Edie Falco says that's one of the most important traits in crafting a realistic portrayal of nurse Jackie's addiction.

FALCO: Addicts, like many people, are phenomenally good liars, whereas an audience member, you should also believe them because on some level, the addict has to convince themselves that it's the truth.

DEGGANS: In Sunday's episode, emergency room nurse Jackie Peyton is scrambling to keep her job after that car accident and arrest, which means she's also got to convince that Zoey Barkow, a nurse who used to be her protege, to support her.


FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) I just wanted to thank you.

MERRITT WEVER: (As Zoey Barkow) For what?

FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) I'm clean today because of you. I went through detox.

WEVER: (As Zoey Barkow) If that's true, good for you.

FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) And it's because of you, Zoey, because you had the courage to stand...

WEVER: (As Zoey Barkow) I'm sorry I can't believe anything that you say. You should really go.

DEGGANS: Falco says high functioning addicts like Jackie can be as likable as they are destructive.

FALCO: The story of addiction is they are often highly lovable individuals - charismatic, charming and easy to love. They systematically go about destroying all those feelings of attachment and the people around them.

DEGGANS: Liz Brixius, who co-created the show, said Falco and the producers had a specific vision for the character.

LIZ BRIXIUS: We wanted a picture of a woman with addiction on TV that wasn't pathetic or slovenly or slurring her words, like somebody who is still incredibly competent at what she does.

DEGGANS: Brixius said it helped that she, co-creator Linda Wallem and Falco all had struggled with alcohol addiction themselves many years ago.

FALCO: It's something that we know so well. It's the idea that there is, no matter where you're going, there's always an undertow pulling you in another direction. And that's your addiction.


FALCO: (As Jackie Peyton) I need my life back. Nobody believes a word I say anymore. They look at me like I'm a junkie.

DEGGANS: "Nurse Jackie" debuted in 2009 as Falco's first big TV project since she costarred in HBO's mob drama "The Sopranos." But even though Falco and costar Merrit Wever won Emmys for their work, the show has never become a massive hit - perhaps because of its focus on Peyton' personal life rather than blockbuster medical cases. It's also often considered a comedy, at least for award show purposes. But that's an idea Falco has resisted, even while accepting her Emmy as Best Comedy Actress in 2010.


FALCO: Oh, this is just the most ridiculous thing that has ever, ever happened in the history of this lovely awards show. Thank you so much. I'm not funny.

DEGGANS: And Falco still gets grief for those words years later.

FALCO: Stop saying it's not a comedy. I'm like I'm not going to stop saying it's not a comedy. It's not a comedy from my vantage point. But who cares, ultimately? I don't care. I mean, it basically comes down to where you are in award shows.

DEGGANS: Co-creator Brixius left "Nurse Jackie" after its fourth season to develop new shows at Universal Television. But she knows exactly how she would end Jackie Peyton's journey if she were still writing the series.

BRIXIUS: I would have her die. I think that's the truth because I don't think as a viewer I would trust her sobriety. Having her walk into another rehab center, I'd be like yeah, right.

DEGGANS: Viewers get 10 episodes to see if Brixius is right - watching the most realistic addict on TV try to beat the odds, and her illness, one more time. I'm Eric Deggans.

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