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NBC medical drama ‘Nurses’ showing signs of life

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Sometimes it’s unfair to judge a new series (in any genre) on its first episode — unless it’s an obvious winner or outright stinker.

So I’m here to report that after a disappointing premiere, NBC’s Canadian import, “Nurses,” has quickened its dramatic pulse and presence in an already-crowded field of medical dramas — including its NBC stablemate “Transplant,” also from Canada (CTV) and recently renewed for a second season.

“Nurses” premiered last January on Canada’s Global TV and Dec. 7 on NBC, when we met its ensemble cast of newbie nurses working their first shift at a bustling hospital in downtown Toronto: hardened Grace (Tiera Skovbye); combative Ashley (Natasha Calis); nervous Keon (Jordan Johnson-Hinds) and Sandy Sidhu (Nazneen Khan); and wiseguy Wolf (Donald Maclean Jr.) The opener was forgettable and even silly at times, including a scene where a doctor donated blood for a patient…in the emergency room. Right.

Those contextual laughers were rectified a bit in Tuesday night’s second episode, where we learned more about the nurses and saw the first glimpses of budding romances, including a flicker between Grace and the chiseled-with-perfect teeth Dr. Evan Wallace (Ryan-James Hatanaka), also sporting the requisite stubble (but of course he is).

The titular nurses, bland and cardboard-cutout obvious in the opener, grew a bit more interesting this week as their backstories were revealed: Grace was fired from her previous job for leaving sponges in a patient during surgery (it turns out she was being groped at the time by that hospital’s “brilliant” surgeon); Wolf has leukemia, and pops a handful of expensive pills each day to keep his illness at bay; Nazneen is ashamed of her wealthy, privileged upbringing; and Keon quit a promising college football career after accidentally paralyzing an opposing player with a tackle. Who knows what Ashley’s story is, but she did show a warmer side in an emotional scene with Grace so there’s that.

A scene from "Nurses."
A scene from “Nurses.”
Ben Mark Holzberg/eOne/NBC

One element that “Nurses” has in its favor is that it shines a light on those professionals who often go unacknowledged or are, with some exceptions, secondary characters in the standard medical drama, built around the usual assortment of snarky, brilliant, conniving, funny, emotionally damaged doctors — most of whom are sleeping with each other (or did so at one time). It’s a refreshing change and one that is long overdue in a genre too often lazy in its storytelling.

That doesn’t mean that “Nurses” is out of the woods…yet. It still has a way to go in terms of providing weekly doses of watchable TV drama — but it is showing some definite signs of life.

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