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"HawthoRNe" The Complete First Season DVD Review

Buy HawthoRNe: The Complete First Season from Amazon.com HawthoRNe: Season One (2009)
Show & DVD Details

Creator: John Masius / Writers: John Masius, Sarah Thorp, Glenn Mazzara, Anna C. Miller, Jeff Rake, Bill Chais, Laurie Arent / Directors: Jeff Bleckner, Andy Wolk, Mikael Solomon, Arvin Brown, Mike Robe, Ed Bianchi, Roxann Dawson

Regular Cast: Jada Pinkett Smith (Christina Hawthorne), David Julian Hirsh (Ray Stein), Christina Moore (Candy Sullivan), Suleka Mathew (Bobbie Jackson), Hannah Hoodson (Camille Hawthorne), Michael Vartan (Dr. Thomas Wakefield)

Recurring Characters: Vanessa Lengies (Kelly Epson), Aisha Hinds (Isabel Walsh), James Morrison (John Morrissey), Joanna Cassidy (Amanda Hawthorne), DB Woodside (David Gendler), Adam Garcia (Nick Mancini), Anne Ramsay (Dr. Brenda Marshall), Matt Malloy (Larry), Rebecca Field (Susan Winters), Jillian Armenante (Cheryl Brooks), Richard Marcus (Old Man Fleming), Darrell Foster (Malcolm), Eli Goodman (Dr. Alan Spitzer), Amanda Carlin (Madeleine), Keisuke Hoashi (Dr. Mazaki)

Notable Guest Stars: Eric Ladin (Corporal Sharp), Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Fred Bernard), Sarayu Rao (Lindsay Bernard), Cloris Leachman (Ms. Lachman), Susan Ruttan (Dolores Kramer), Azura Skye (Mary Barth), Billy Unger (Sam), Shanna Collins (Lucy Meyers), Ryan Christopher Lee (Sang Kim), Michael Ealy (Dr. Phillips), Cassi Thomson (Amy Johnson), Julia Campbell (Beth Johnson), Lauren Tom (Mrs. Tanaka), Wendell Pierce (Michael Schilling), W. Earl Brown (Mr. Deegan), Judith Scott (Karen Schilling), Kai Lennox (Alex Lewison), Michael J. Pagan (Ryan Schilling), Haley Ramm (Devon), Amy Pietz (Gretchen Breyer), Christopher Cousins (Aaron Breyer), Jessy Schram (Crystal Raymond), Douglas Smith (Curtis), Christy Romano (Alex), Marguerite Moreau (Faye), Sarah Lancaster (Courtney), Reid Scott (Jared), Raphael Sbarge (Doug Gache), Judy Reyes (Vita Gonzalez), Erinn Hayes (Maureen McKinley), Bruce French (Dr. Mike Weston), Kitty Swink (Dr. Cohen)

Running Time: 430 Minutes (10 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Not Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: June 15, 2010; Suggested Retail Price: $34.95
Season 1 Airdates: June 16, 2009 - August 18, 2009
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Two Clear Slim Cases in Cardboard Box

Buy from Amazon.com

Will Smith may be the biggest movie star in the world, but his family won't just sit back and let him support them. Eleven-year-old son Jaden Smith, already a lead actor in Dad's acclaimed 2006 drama The Pursuit of Happyness and 2008's The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, aims for superstardom as Jackie Chan's protégé in this week's kung fu-flavored Karate Kid.
Jaden's Mom, 38-year-old Jada Pinkett Smith, also has an acting career, one that dates back the same twenty years as Will's.

Motherhood only briefly slowed Pinkett Smith down. She's long been back in the swing, claiming major roles in an array of notable films, among them, the two Matrix sequels, the two Madagascar movies (she voices Gloria the hippo), Collateral, Reign Over Me, and The Women. Pinkett Smith has even gotten creative behind the camera, creating the UPN sitcom "All of Us" with Will, and both writing and directing 2008's The Human Contract.

Pinkett Smith's latest project has put her back on television, the medium where both she and her husband began (her on the final two seasons of "A Different World", him of course as "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"). The TNT original drama series "Hawthorne", created by John Masius ("Touched by an Angel", "Providence"), is also perhaps the actress' first solo star vehicle since 1998's Woo.

Jada Pinkett Smith stars as heroic Nurse Christina Hawthorne. She runs this. Dashing chief of surgery Dr. Thomas Wakefield (Michael Vartan) repeatedly defends Christina's not always ethical brand of nursing.

In print, the show's title is often written "HawthoRNe"; those unusually capitalized letters indicate Pinkett Smith plays a registered nurse. Christina Hawthorne is actually the head nurse of Virginia's Richmond Trinity Hospital. Widowed one year ago, Christina now finds her life largely devoted to the hospital.

The series rarely ventures outside the workplace with its heroine. And yet unlike some medical dramas, this one doesn't fill the air with fascinating cases and rare but true phenomena. It also doesn't weave a complicated web of professional and personal relationships, something that would require a regular cast much larger than the six actors found in the opening credits here. "Hawthorne" really gives us a little bit of everything: some patient drama, light comedy, glimpses of personal lives, romances that are targeted but barely developed into tease phase.

Through it all, chief nursing officer Christina remains focal. An advocate for both patients and fellow nurses, Hawthorne plays by her own rules, something that occasionally gets her in trouble with the hospital's administration (and, it would seem, most nurses' codes of ethics). Since the series rests on her shoulders, the protagonist could use some traits to make her stand out. A hard work ethic and saintly selflessness are values to aspire to, but they alone don't make for the most memorable television. Beyond the rare bit of street slang, little distinguishes the title character from a generic goody-goody.

As a male nurse, Ray Stein (David Julian Hirsh) craves respect, but will settle for the affections of dolled-up Candy Sullivan (Christina Moore). Good-natured multicultural nurse Bobbie Jackson (Suleka Mathew) is the one regular given a genuine romance in Season 1, though her relationship with EMT driver Nick (Australian actor Adam Garcia) doesn't last long.

The supporting cast seems to have been given more substantial dossiers with which to explore in their secondary screentime. Male nurse Ray Stein (David Julian Hirsh) craves the respect reserved for doctors, which he set out to become and failed.
Ray's new goal is to win over Candy Sullivan (Christina Moore, "Mad TV"), his pretty, always made-up colleague. Despite her name and picture-perfect appearance, one buys Candy as a nurse because she's always believably preoccupied. That largely keeps her off-screen, as the unattainable object of Ray's affections, but it's a better impression than the first one she makes, as someone whose sense of patriotism includes complimentary handjobs for wounded veterans.

Such a plot point, treated both casually and euphemistically, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the program, which is decidedly mild throughout. In fact, you'd think "Hawthorne" was perfectly suited for the easily-offended daytime TV audience (who currently could only see it on the occasional Saturday morning). Then comes the infrequent utterance of until-recently unbroadcastable profanity ("bullshit", "assholes") and handjob talk, seemingly to jolt us out of dozing off.

Back to the core cast, pleasant Bobbie Jackson appears to be Christina's best friend, whose life is surprisingly defined by a prosthetic leg. Its focus would be more understandable if actress Suleka Mathew was an amputee like her character; she's not, though, requiring some simple but convincing visual effects as her handicap factors into her stalled romance with a recurring EMT driver and her professional behavior. Though credited as a guest star, Vanessa Lengies is present and central in a majority of episodes as emotional young nurse Kelly.

Rounding out the prominent hospital staff with an "and" credit is "Alias" alumnus Michael Vartan as sympathetic head doctor Tom Wakefield. Competent, understanding, and single, Dr. Wakefield is unsurprisingly developed into an inevitable love interest for Hawthorne, albeit at a sluggish snail's pace.

Kelly Epson (Vanessa Lengies) is the youngest and most impressionable of Richmond Trinity Hospital's visible nurses. Headstrong teenage daughter Camille (Hannah Hoodson) ensures that Christina has a life outside the hospital, but it generally strays no further than a bench out front.

The final component of the regular cast is Christina's teenage daughter Camille (Hannah Hoodson), whose lack of photo to go with her opening credit suggests the part was an afterthought. A necessary one, though, as the variety and outside life she provides is appreciated. Camille is initially painted as a trouble-making high school activist and is fleshed into an occasional liar who's basically good at heart. The writers invent reasons for her to show up at Richmond Trinity, from failing English to a boyfriend with chest pains.

Despite those rare instances I mentioned a few paragraphs back, "Hawthorne" remains easygoing and nonchallenging. TV has certainly offered enough entries to this genre to prevent me from speaking definitively, but I would guess you'd be hard-pressed to find a modern medical drama as gentle as this one. Much less hard-hitting and intense than something like "ER" and nowhere near as sudsy and preposterous as "Grey's Anatomy", this light program seems almost like a stretch for drama classification. Its hour-long runtime and lack of any other defining genre qualify it as such, as I guess does TNT's "We Know Drama" motto. Still, "Hawthorne" stays fairly upbeat and cheery, not quite inspirational, but also not dreary or overdramatic like the combination of basic cable and its subject matter might suggest.

One of the show's biggest interests is the nurse-doctor relationship. Since nurses are given more attention, we predictably are invited to take their side when doctor or social worker judgment is questioned. The series is smart enough not to paint things black and white, but it also rarely judges its nurses' actions unfavorably. As such, it does play like a love letter to the supposedly underappreciated and overworked profession, something presumably designed to appease nurses whose work shifts allow them to tune in.

Homeless woman Isabel Walsh (recurring guest star Aisha Hinds) becomes a mother and a hospital lab messenger in Season 1. Privately becoming a patient, Christina's administrator mother-in-law, Amanda Hawthorne (Joanna Cassidy) needs some encouragement to don a hospital gown.

Two of Season 1's storylines involve recurring characters. Homeless woman Isabel (Aisha Hinds) gives birth to a baby and then tries to get her life in order with a hospital job as the infant is given to a foster family. Also figuring at both ends of the season is the struggle of ailing cancer patient David (DB Woodside) who was friends with Christina's late husband.

"Hawthorne" delivers a respectable number of recognizable guest stars,
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especially coming to this as I do from TNT's generally no-name "Leverage" (no doubt hindered by filming in Portland, Oregon). The second episode includes appearances by both Malcolm-Jamal Warner and Cloris Leachman. Maybe not A-list names, but familiar enough to warrant a mention on the DVD case. On board to a recurring degree: Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead's Joanna Cassidy as a difficult hospital administrator who is Christina's (former) mother-in-law; James Morrison ("24") as the most wrangled-with, budget-minded higher-up; and "Mad About You" sister Anne Ramsay as a condescending doctor.

On the whole, the cast is ethnically diverse (three Canadian leads!) without feeling unnaturally so. The show may be filmed in an abandoned Van Nuys hospital and the fictional setting is largely irrelevant, but the real Richmond is nearly two-thirds African American, and "Hawthorne" isn't oblivious to that.

A week before TNT's Season 2 premiere, Sony releases The Complete First Season exclusively on DVD.

In the opening moments of the "HawthoRNe" pilot, an awoken Christina (Jada Pinkett Smith) tries to talk down a patient threatening to jump off the hospital's roof. Tending to the needy Dolores (Susan Ruttan) keeps Ray (David Julian Hirsh) from spending time with the girl he wants.

Disc 1

1. Pilot (43:11) (Originally aired June 16, 2009)
On the one year anniversary of her husband's death, Christina tries to help a suicidal cancer patient and also admits the baby of friendly derelict Isabel.

2. Healing Time (43:11) (Originally aired June 23, 2009)
Christina stays supportive for a demential brain aneurysm patient (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) who thinks she's his wife.
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Kelly deals with a difficult patient (Cloris Leachman). Ray struggles to collect his overtime pay from Larry the accountant (Matt Malloy).

3. Yielding (43:11) (Originally aired June 30, 2009)
Challenged to provide for patients, Christina converts a storage room to hold a woman on life support. A demanding patient (Susan Ruttan) keeps Ray from getting close to Candy. After her baby suffers a rubbing alcohol-induced seizure, a protective mother (Azura Skye) is suspected and investigated.

4. All the Wrong Places (43:07) (Originally aired July 7, 2009)
Christina tries to take care of a shy boy whose single mother has suffered life-threatening injuries. Bobbie fights an amputation diagnosis for a resolute patient. Tracking down supplies, Kelly gets lost in the hospital.

In the interests of her recurring patient, Christina stands up to a PR-savvy hotshot surgeon (Michael Ealy) in front of a farm-decorated pediatrics wall. Ray (David Julian Hirsh) shares his thoughts with what he thinks is a newspaper writer (Kai Lennox) in "Trust Me."

Disc 2

5. The Sense of Belonging (43:11) (Originally aired July 14, 2009)
The nurses are saddled by a new initiative that requires them to log their every activity. While Ray secretly attends to her mother-in-law, Christina looks out for a young regular patient who requires a rare AVM procedure from an unproven hotshot surgeon (Michael Ealy). Accountant Larry uses Candy's overpayment error to get a date with her.

6. Trust Me (43:11) (Originally aired July 21, 2009)
When a nearby hospital closes, Richmond Trinity's patient load doubles. Among the chaos, Camille's friend suffers a troubling cardiac arrest, Isabel is distraught over Moses being discharged to a foster family, and Ray lets a newspaper exposé writer tail him.

7. Night Moves (43:11) (Originally aired July 28, 2009)
Having to work the night shift, Christina tends to a pregnant teen whose baby has been promised to two adoptive couples. Also, Bobbie lets Isabel stay over, and Ray has to fill in for Tom as a women's hockey game medic.

A driving lesson from Kelly (Vanessa Lengies) proves to be quite the adventure for Camille (Hannah Hoodson) in episode 8's lightest storyline. Going to bat with the hospital administration over budget cuts makes Christina Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett Smith) oh so sweaty.

Disc 3

8. No Guts, No Glory (43:11) (Originally aired August 4, 2009)
A patient (Judy Reyes) has bruises suggesting domestic abuse, a motorcycle wreck brings in a couple on the verge of engagement, Bobbie treats a bigot, and Kelly gives Camille driving lessons.

9. Mother's Day (42:41) (Originally aired August 11, 2009)
With Christina fighting proposed hospital cuts, Bobbie calls the shots in the emergency room. Kelly is concerned that a stroke patient's diagnosis is inaccurate. This episode reaches dramatic heights otherwise avoided thus far.

10. Hello and Goodbye (42:11) (Originally aired August 18, 2009)
In trying to help David get into a clinical trial, Christina offends Tom. Kelly plans a goodbye party for Old Man Fleming. Camille spends the day with her grandmother.

VIDEO and AUDIO

As a modern-day TV show and one released to DVD by Sony, it's rather unsurprising that "Hawthorne" looks basically flawless in its delightful 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The picture is clean, sharp, and detailed. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is no slouch either. Crisp dialogue is tactfully distributed among the front channels, while music and occasional hospital atmosphere expand to emanate from around you. The appreciated English subtitles for the hearing impaired resemble closed captioning, with white letters in black blocks.

No, Michael Vartan isn't doing his impression of Brian Dennehy in "Cocoon"; he's explaining how his right eye got so red in "Get to Know the Cast." Christina Moore demonstrates what she now knows about defibrillators, while David Julian Hirsh watches as his character might. A before & after illustrates how Suleka Mathew's greenscreen stocking gets replaced by a prosthetic leg via the magic of Visual Effects.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Disc One opens with a short preview for Season 2. Beyond that, Disc Three holds all the bonus features, just seven short featurettes, which are all primarily letterboxed.

"All in a Day's Work: A Conversation with Jada Pinkett Smith" (3:42) provides some comments from the star in between show clips.
Pinkett Smith discusses the series and its characters.

"Inside Richmond Trinity" (4:18) gets other cast and crew perspectives on the show, its themes and characters.

"Get to Know the Cast of HawthoRNe" (2:06) has the leading actors reveal little-known facts about themselves.

"HawthoRNe Medical School" (1:20) lets actress Christina Moore explain what she's learned about defibrillators.

In "Male Nurses" (1:16), actor David Julian Hirsh shares some facts about his character's calling off the back of a male nurse action figure package.

Suleka Mathew describes how she is given a prosthetic leg via greenscreen magic in "Shooting a Scene: Visual Effects" (1:37).

Cast and executive producer Glen Mazzara discuss their personal heroes in "HawthoRNe's Heroes" (2:08).

Where have I seen this main menu image before? On Discs 1 and 2 and slightly reformatted on the Season 1 DVD cover. With four episodes, Disc 1 delivers 25% more show than each of its two fellow discs.

Finally, "Previews" serves up ads for "Drop Dead Diva": The Complete First Season, "Damages": The Complete Second Season, Dear John, The Bounty Hunter, The Young Victoria, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Extraordinary Measures, Nine, and Hachi: A Dog's Tale.

The silent, static menu screens stay close to the case's gold-bannered design.

Sony packages the three discs of "Hawthorne" Season One in a five-sided cardboard box that holds two clear slim cases. Episode credits and show photography appearing on the reverse side of the distinct case artwork. An insert encourages watching Season 2 on TNT and donating blood (not necessarily in that order).

Chief nursing officer Christina Hawthorne is front and center of both the TNT drama she lends her surname to and this particular nurses meeting.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Hawthorne" is fine and workmanlike, but no better than that. I'm confident that it's the mildest medical drama being made today
and while it doesn't have to be edgy or graphic, the show definitely stands to improve by doing something beyond its current palette. The Complete First Season is reasonably engaging. I don't regret watching it and I wouldn't rule out seeing more. Is there anything here you'll revisit regularly? Probably not. That makes this DVD of greatest use to those interested -- be they medical drama buffs or simply fans of Jada Pinkett Smith or her co-stars -- who either don't have cable or wisely prefer a rental over watching scheduled TV.

The DVD's feature presentation is free of any problems. With no commentaries, deleted scenes, or even bloopers, though, the brisk bonus materials don't add much to the package.

More on the DVD / Buy HawthoRNe: Season 1 from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed June 9, 2010.



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