Just The Vitals: Brief Thoughts on NURSES (Season Three)

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re concluding our trilogy of posts on the Witt-Thomas-Harris sitcom Nurses (1991-1994, NBC), which was also created by Susan Harris and existed in the same universe as both The Golden Girls (1985-1992, NBC) and Empty Nest (1988-1995, NBC), with which it frequently enjoyed crossovers. Given its lesser quality, I have decided to afford this show brief coverage — using our basic “Potpourri” template — so we’ll finish now with Season Three, which aired concurrently with Empty Nest’s sixth year.


NURSES Season Three (1993-1994, NBC)

Premise: The nurses and staff of a Miami hospital — including an insider trader forced to do community service — work hard day in and day out, now under a new administrator.

Cast: Loni Anderson, Arnetia Walker, Mary Jo Keenen, Ada Maris, Kip Gilman, Carlos Lacamara, David Rasche

Staff Writers: Tom Straw, Boyd Hale, Danny Smith, Tom Reeder, Mark Nutter, Barbara Wallace & Thomas R. Wolfe, Christine Zander

Thoughts: With David Rasche’s Jack turning Nurses into a funnier but even less grounded sitcom, Season Three has more changes in store, dropping both an ancillary orderly added during the previous year and the series’ originally intended star, Stephanie Hodge, who was never able to anchor the ensemble as planned. But by this time, the show was on life support, so while it needed creative help, it also needed commercial help too. The solution to hopefully boost ratings was yet another regular — even bigger than David Rasche’s Jack: Loni Anderson’s Casey, a new hospital administrator (played by a bigger star) who has a definite characterization, and like Jack, indeed sparks new relationships within the group — as she butts heads with Arnetia Walker’s Annie, becomes the object of desire for Jack, and even has a half-season crossover romance with Empty Nest’s Harry Weston (Richard Mulligan). But the main problem remains: Casey is not one of the nurses, and her inclusion no more allows the show to find a character-based center in line with its premise than Jack did. In fact, while the Gina/Hank arc grows more personal as they get married and have a baby, Three continues to take the show away from what it was initially supposed to be, and instead of landing on a new premise that it could potentially posit as more worthwhile, all it ends up delivering is a series of stories that are sillier and more disassociated from the regulars than ever before. Now, Nurses was always a mediocre sitcom at best, but I’m afraid it’s actively become bad, for it’s hard to really say what the show is. Oh, yes, it’s still an ensemble workplace comedy, with a new boss in Loni Anderson (who, I’ll stress, has nothing to do with its demise — her casting is a gimmick, but she’s an anchoring name with a stage presence like this show has never enjoyed), but the characterizations have been atrophied by poor use, and we’ve given up hope on the notion that there are strong enough bonds here to encourage story (e.g., the Gina/Hank stuff is clichéd, and the Jack/Casey/Harry triangle is limited). Ultimately, someone should have called time of death on Nurses a while ago, for if it was never meaningfully going to be about its nurse characters, then it was never going to figure out how to use its core cast in story, satisfying its premise and the sitcom genre’s needs. So, I guess this was just a clinical trial — a failed experiment, ultimately unproductive.

    Key Episodes:  

#48: “Send In The Gowns” (10/02/93) — workplace conflict creates relationships

#49: “Intruders” (10/09/93) — fun subplot for the comical Jack

#50: “Jack’s Indecent Proposal” (10/16/93) — Jack/Casey with good climax, Charley guests

#53: “The Bridges Of Dade County” (11/06/93) — lots of Harry (and Jack/Casey)

#54: “No, But I Played One On TV” (11/13/93) — gimmicky guest stars, like Chad Everett

#55: “Temporary Setbacks” (11/20/93) — Sophia and Carol crossover from Empty Nest

#56: “The Birth Of A Marriage” (11/27/93) — again, lots of Harry in a Big Event show

#62: “Don’t Hit The Road, Jack” (02/12/94) — another good Jack/Casey entry

#66: “The One After The Earthquake” (04/16/94) — fun Jack Nicholson voice subplot

#67: “The Big Jack Attack” (04/23/94) — funny A-story with “hatchet man”

#68: “All The Pretty Caseys” (05/07/94) — tries to do something with Julie/Paco

(Also, I’m not highlighting it, but Harry Weston appears in #47 as well)



Come back next week for a new Wildcard Wednesday! And stay tuned for more Empty Nest!