The Surfing Receptionist and the Beautiful Bombshell
2007 Fall TV preview
September 2007 -- The new prime time U.S. television season promises mostly the same old narrative: nurses are the peripheral servants of heroic physicians who provide all important care, including much that nurses do in real life. The only new health drama, ABC's "Private Practice" (premiering Sept. 26), is a spinoff of the network's ratings monster "Grey's Anatomy" (Sept. 27). The new show is the brainchild of "Grey's" creator Shonda Rhimes, and it will of course focus on pretty, smart physicians. But the show's "wellness clinic" also has a cute surfing receptionist named Dell Parker (right) who just got his "nursing degree" and is studying to be a midwife--seemingly a prime time version of "Strong Medicine"'s Peter Riggs, except Dell uses his nursing skills to be a receptionist. Meanwhile, "Grey's" continues to vie with Fox's "House" (Sept. 25) for the title of the most damaging show for nursing in decades, if not in history. Both shows regularly attract more than 20 million U.S. viewers. But watch "Grey's": Rhimes has reportedly said that physician stud McSteamy will not be lonely, even with ex-flame Addison gone, because "[t]here are always nurses." Also returning are NBC's veteran "ER" (Sept. 27) and "Scrubs" (Oct. 25), shows that are not great for nursing, but do each have one major nurse character who can think and talk. "ER" in particular includes some good portrayals of nursing amid the physician-centric inaccuracies. FX's new season of "Nip/Tuck" (Oct. 30) finds the plastic surgery duo in the big pond of Los Angeles, still with no major nurse characters--unless there are some in "Hearts 'n Scalpels," the "show-within-a-show" for which the two become advisors (!). And USA Network's new "Dr. Steve-O" (Oct. 1) features "Jackass" veteran Steve-O in a reality show aimed at "de-wussifying" "wimps." That vital task involves macho stunts and the host's sidekick, "beautiful bombshell nurse" Trishelle, who offers sexual attention to "patients" and Dr. Steve-O himself. Trishelle is the only regular "naughty nurse" character we are now aware of on any national U.S. TV show--a singular achievement for USA Network's parent NBC Universal, which also airs "E.R." All told, the six health-oriented shows above (obviously excluding "Dr. Steve-O") feature something like 35 major physician characters and three major nurse characters, if you count receptionist Dell. Actually, it's that staffing ratio that would make for a truly fascinating reality show.
Some "Grey's Anatomy" fans felt that the show lost its way last season, but it remains at the top of the U.S. ratings universe as it enters its fourth season. "Grey's" boasts more major physician characters than any other show, something like 11 as the season starts. It focuses on the work and love lives of the smart, pretty Seattle Grace surgical residents--hearts 'n scalpels! Although there has been some upheaval (most of the interns are done with their first year, Addison is gone to LA, Burke has abandoned Christina, Derek and Meredith are ambivalent), the basic themes appear to be the same. As for Addison's ex-lover Mark "McSteamy" Sloane, TV Guide had this to say:
But without Addison, Mark won't be left high and dry. "There are always nurses," Rhimes says. "He's a very resourceful man."
No doubt we'll get some good nursing portrayals there, along the lines of the clueless "skanky syph nurse" Olivia. So there is no reason to expect a change from the show's overall vision of nurses as disposable sex toys and petulant physician helpers. "Grey's Anatomy"'s website.
The new "Private Practice" features Addison and six more physician characters in a show that the producers promise will be "lighter" than "Grey's" (with all its heavy themes and gritty realism?). Addison flees rainy Seattle for the welcoming arms of old med school friends who run an LA "wellness group," which includes a "self-help guru," a fertility specialist, a pediatrician, and a psychiatrist. The actress playing one physician, Audra MacDonald, also played a nurse in the 2001 film "Wit," which was very good for nursing. Ms. MacDonald, like "China Beach"'s Dana Delaney before her, has moved on. In any case, it's not clear how much time "Private Practice" will spend in actual clinical settings. In the "pilot" that aired this spring as an episode of "Grey's," the characters spent most of their time in personal and sexual situations with each other. So there may at least be fewer scenes showing the physicians providing health care that nurses really do, or in which nurses are portrayed as twits and servants.
In fact, "Private Practice" features the one new major nurse character of the fall season--sort of. This is William "Dell" Parker, who has been promoted everywhere as the wellness clinic's hot surfing receptionist. But careful readers of the ABC website (and pretty much no one else, it seems) will learn this:
William 'Dell' Parker will greet you with a happy smile when you arrive at the Oceanside Wellness Group. Much more than just our receptionist, Dell performs many of the day to day operations that keep us up and running. For that, we are extremely grateful for his expertise in all areas of the practice. Recently, Dell received his nursing degree.
Dell is currently enrolled as a student in the South Bay School of Holistic Midwifery and Family Nursing. He earns credit towards his degree in midwifery by assisting staff doctors with obstetrical exams and childbirths. Dell's hobbies include surfing during his lunch break. ...
Witness to it all at the co-op is the receptionist, William Dell Parker. Young, quirky and confident, Dell may seem like an easygoing surfer, but he's deeply interested in the medical profession. In Addison, he sees the chance to have a mentor and pursue his dream -- becoming a midwife.
Dell appears to be a younger version of Peter Riggs from Lifetime's "Strong Medicine," a progressive, holistic midwife and sex object--only Dell works as a receptionist. But often this is what RN stands for in Hollywood: Receptionist Nurse. "Private Practice" is just making it a little more explicit. Of course, we can't help but wonder why anyone with a "nursing degree," in Los Angeles, in 2007, would choose to work as a receptionist instead of getting nursing career experience and making 2-4 times as much money. And the obvious answer is that the producers see little real difference between a nurse and a receptionist, "nursing degree" or not. The site suggests that Dell finds a "mentor" in the OB Addison, but he appears to predate her at the clinic. Do nurse-midwifery students really get graduate credit for things they happen to do at their receptionist jobs? And we haven't exactly pegged Addison as "holistic"--the closest thing to holistic on the cutting-is-everything "Grey's Anatomy" is the dippy, roundly mocked resident Sydney.
We'll have to see if "Private Practice" does anything with Dell as a nurse, or if he's really just the cute surfing receptionist who will marvel at Addison's expertise, and maybe receive a different kind of attention from her. But even if Dell is never incorporated into the health care plotlines, he could advance the same "feminist" themes we saw on "Strong Medicine," as the man in nursing who subverts traditional gender relations, the young, hot, junior male over whom the older, stronger female physicians can exert professional (and perhaps sexual) power. Of course, a female nurse character would be of little value to the show's producers--they're interested in modern women with serious professions. "Private Practice"'s website.
"House" begins its fourth season with House's former team (Foreman, Cameron, and Chase) all gone for different reasons, and their rascally leader selecting a new crew of victims using zany, degrading reality show tactics. It seems that all three junior physicians will eventually return, with Cameron in the ED and Chase in surgery, at least initially (because this is "House," any physician can pursue any specialty at any time). Apparently House's two main physician enablers, Cuddy and Wilson, will remain throughout. But the show will also reportedly add 2-3 "staff members" by mid-season. Of course, the chance that any of these will be a nurse is slim, and we're not sure it would be helpful anyway, since the producers do not appear to be aware that there are any nurses who could stand up to House's cutting banter, or play any significant role in care. "House"'s website.
"ER," which features tough, skilled major nurse character Sam Taggart, returns for its 14th season with a number of changes. Former chief of ED medicine Kovac is temporarily back in Croatia, and his replacement as of late last season was prickly reformer Moretti. Attending Weaver and resident Barnett are gone. However, Carter will reportedly return for a few episodes. And particularly if continued weak ratings mean this is the venerable show's last season, it appears that characters from its long run may return briefly, possibly including nurse Carol Hathaway, still one of the best nurse characters in television history. However, there is no indication of any additional regular nurse characters, and the show seems likely to continue with its basic approach. That involves a hospital environment that is far closer to reality than any other show's, with nurses regularly shown to be skilled and important to care, with occasionally excellent scenes. But overall the show's portrayal has always been heavily physician-centric, with frequent physician nursing and implications that nurses report to physicians. "ER"'s website.
"Scrubs," which includes competent and relatively normal major nurse character Carla Espinosa, is back for its seventh season with the basic cast intact. Lead character J.D. and his fellow physicians continue to struggle with the challenges of growing up. Although there isn't much nursing, Espinosa occasionally displays real skill. And the sitcom has recently included plotlines in which the physicians have paid tribute to her role in training them. On the whole, however, "Scrubs" presents a grossly physician-centric vision of hospital care. The role of minor nurse character Laverne Roberts grew last season, and she became less useless as a nurse, but it appeared to be so she could provide an interesting plot twist by dying. This season, Roberts will effectively return through the character of her twin sister, who will be played by the same actress. This may be the last season of "Scrubs," which relatively few people watch, but then, it seems that way every year. "Scrubs"' website.
The fifth season of FX's edgy "Nip/Tuck" features the plastic surgeons moving from Miami to LA, but not to join a "wellness clinic." "Nip/Tuck" has never had a major nurse character, though last season several episodes did feature Marlo, the private duty nurse of lead character Sean's infant son, a man who was also, briefly, Sean's wife's lover. This surprisingly strong nurse character actually challenged Sean's conventional, pro-surgery views of how to deal with his son's health issues, and the show suggested that Marlo would remain a positive force in the child's life over the very long term. The show also made much of the fact that Marlo was a dwarf willing to undergo surgery to become somewhat closer in size to Sean's wife. In general, the show has stuck with the traditional Hollywood view of nurses as meek assistants who defer mutely to the commanding physicians who really matter. The one element of the new season we're really interested in is "Hearts 'n Scalpels," the "show" for which Sean and Christian will become "medical advisors." We assume it will be intensely satirical (seriously? seriously), but the plotline may well illuminate something of the role physician advisors really play in Hollywood. Will Christian smugly tell an on-set nurse technical advisor how to teach an actor playing a physician how to do something that nurses do in real life? Or will a drunken Sean rebuke a TV writer whose script suggests nurses are peripheral subordinates to the physicians who provide all important care, arguing blearily that that kind of distortion exacerbates the deadly global nursing shortage? Our heads are spinning with the possibilities! "Nip/Tuck"'s website.
USA Network's new "Dr. Steve-O" stars Stephen Glover, who became well-known in part by making videos for MTV's "Jackass." In the new show, "Dr. Steve-O" "de-wussifies" men through "extreme attitude adjustment" measures that help them overcome their fears and, we assume, conform more closely to the rigid code of machismo that has been such a positive force in the modern world, especially in the area of public health. Dr. Steve-O's care plans include cutting his tongue with a broken light bulb, lighting his head on fire, and hitting guests' genitals with a "nutwacker" device. Fortunately, the show airs at 11 p.m. EST / 10:00 p.m. CST, so few minors will get dangerous ideas from it.
But of course, the show's nurse tactics are of greater interest to us. Nurse Trishelle dresses in standard naughty nurse attire and will "get your blood pumping to the body's most important part." In the online video, "Trishelle Takes Charge," she spanks a man with paddles. In the video "Let's Do It", Trishelle sits on Dr. Steve-O's lap (above) while he considers whether or not the two should have sex. And don't miss the online-only competition for "Hot Nurse of the Week." We realize that this is all a "joke," and that it can be read as a satire of macho dysfunction. But we will be trying to end the show's exploitation of the damaging naughty nurse stereotype, because it still suggests that nursing is trivial work whose brainless practitioners could, and ideally would, spend their time providing sexual services to patients and the physicians to whom they report. In the meantime, please let the show know what you think. "Dr. Steve-O"'s website.
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On the whole, we expect little to change in what Hollywood tells countless millions of viewers around the world each week about nursing--until more nurses let the show's producers know it should change. Visit our action page and help make it happen!