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Inconceivable (2005)

Starring Ming-Na, Jonathan Cake, Angie Harmon, Joelle Carter, Mary Catherine Garrison, David Noroña, Reynaldo Rosales

Executive Producers: Oliver Goldstick, Marco Pennette, Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins, Joe Davola

Touchstone Television in association with Tollin/Robbins Productions




Nursing rating 1/2 star

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating

The short-lived NBC fertility clinic drama "Inconceivable" presented one of the worst images of nursing to hit prime time in years. The one fairly major nurse character, the frivolous, sex-wielding Patrice LoCicero (Joelle Carter), spent the first episode seducing the lead male physician, clinging as he pulled away, then betraying him in a way that was both insidious and pathetic. Elsewhere, while the other major characters faced major work issues, nurse characters snapped photos of new parents, discussed lunch and vacation plans, and commented cheerfully that a man who had chosen one of the clinic's naughty nurse porn movies to help him produce a sperm sample would take awhile, as he had chosen one with "a plot." (Maybe he should have just watched "Inconceivable.") Both episodes aired were written by Oliver Goldstick and Marco Pennette. If viewers had no reason to regard nurses as unskilled twits or sexually degraded, back-stabbing vixens before watching this show, they sure do now.

"Inconceivable" focused on the Family Options Fertility Clinic in Beverly Hills. The clinic helps patients who are having trouble producing children, using methods like IVF and surrogacy. Naturally, there is tension and conflict. Some couples cannot achieve their goals even after many attempts. Others suffer through the slings and arrows of surrogacy, which on the show includes a surrogate who had sex near the time of implantation and produces a baby of the wrong race, and an aspiring dad who cannot resist rooting through his surrogate's trash to make sure she is eating right.

The principals of the clinic as the show starts are Malcolm Bower (Jonathan Cake), an arrogant physician and fertility "miracle worker" whom the show seems to regard as a major hunk, and Rachel Lu (Ming-Na--above), who seems to be a therapist, though the show does not make this very clear. The show's third main character, Nora Campbell (Angie Harmon --right), another hotshot physician and (of course) old flame of Bower's, only appears at the end of the first episode. She will apparently join the clinic after rescuing it (with a large check) from the lawsuit resulting from the wrong race baby.

Both Malcolm and Nora are one standard variation of the modern Hollywood physician: brilliant, ambitious, attractive, multi-faceted life-savers who bend rules to help patients and are kinda arrogant, just to make 'em, you know, remotely human. The NBC site informs us that they were, long ago, the only two residents at an ultra-competitive UCLA reproductive endocrinology program. It's pretty clear that the show regards the physicians' ruthlessness as a small price for society to pay for their overall awesomeness. Rounding out the less major major characters at the clinic are a lawyer, an office manager, a medical technician, and nurse Patrice.

The NBC web site correctly describes the young, attractive Joelle Carter (right) as having made Patrice "a fiery vixen to be reckoned with as a nurse who got too involved with Dr. Malcolm Bower." The site also explains that Patrice's mother was a nurse who "coerced" rather than "inspired" her daughter's decision to become a nurse. We learn that, while Malcolm and Nora were at UCLA laying the groundwork for their impending Nobel Prizes (OK, I made that up), Patrice "spent most of her high school and college years getting wasted and hanging out with surfers at the beach." She's, like, totally good at swimming and surfing. And now she "dresses provocatively and punishes the guys who don't notice."

Consistent with this vision, the series premiere does not find Patrice joining in the serious discussions about patients and the future of the clinic. Instead, she spends the episode, well, getting too involved with Malcolm (right). We see her in bed with Malcolm. We watch him explore the mid-section of her lingerie-clad body as he charms a reporter on the phone, asking about how the duck at a restaurant he has evidently recommended to the reporter is (" tender") as he runs his hand over the tender nurse flesh right in front of him. Later, Patrice interrupts a heated discussion between Malcolm and Rachel about how they are going to deal with the legal fallout caused by the wrong race baby. Heedless of these vibes, Patrice holds up a cute little shopping bag and says to Malcolm: "There you are. You got time to look at something? I bought it for our weekend away!" It seems likely that this refers to more of the Patrice undergarments we have already been invited to ogle. Rachel snaps at her: "Unless there's an embryo in that bag, this is business." Patrice retreats. When Malcolm, also annoyed, later asks Patrice what was so urgent, she confirms our guess, smiling and saying: "I just got back from the mall. C'mere. I wanna show you the 'evening wear' I bought for this weekend." She flashes some slinky lingerie from the bag, and informs him that "[t]he paddles were extra." That's when he starts to pull back, telling her that he's not sure about this weekend. Patrice, always thinking of others, reminds him: "What? It's my birthday!" Malcolm reminds her that he's "with patients."

Patrice does not take Malcolm's change of heart well. Later, she shows up early in the morning at Malcolm's really cool house, and finds indications that he has been with someone else. She tells him she thought they were doing something more than having fun; evidently not. Later, at the clinic, she is bitter. When a surrogate asks how long it will take the oral valium to work--yes, oral valium--she says it should take about 20 minutes. Malcolm offers one to Dad, and Patrice notes that "we could all use a couple." Later, Patrice finds Malcolm in his office. She moves again to seduce him. When he questions this, she says, "can't a girl have a proper goodbye?" She kisses him and starts moving down his body. Then we see her hand reaching surreptitiously for a plastic sperm sample container. Still later, we see her substitute the container for that of the husband in a couple that has been having a lot of trouble with IVF. We recall that the wife has recently expressed a desire to try using someone else's sperm without her husband's knowledge. However, some shadowy mystery figure has seen Patrice make this switch!

The second episode finds this mystery figure circling closer to Patrice with anonymous emails. Patrice continues to work, awkwardly, alongside Malcolm and Nora, whom Malcolm has brought in to use a cutting-edge, not-quite-legal procedure to help this same troubled couple. We leave this plotline with Nora and Malcolm preparing to create an embryo for the couple--unaware that they are using Malcolm's sperm. Meanwhile, we see Patrice stealing and ingesting the clinic's Valium (she wasn't just joking about needing some), and getting grief for having denied another nurse's vacation leave. Patrice seems to be managing the nurses, though it's not clear why she would have been given that responsibility; presumably the thinking was it's just nursing, so it's not like it actually matters. At one point, Nora sees Patrice and Malcolm exchange an awkward look. Nora asks Malcolm:   "When did you stop doing the nurse?" And just to cap our vision of Patrice, the previews for the never-aired third episode suggest that the mystery figure who saw her make the sperm switch was the show's medical technician, and that when Patrice learns this, she keeps him quiet by (you guessed it) having sex with him.

What can it all mean? It means that the show presents its lone major nurse character as a damaged, shallow, selfish, drug-abusing clock-puncher who tries to exert power through sex because that's all she has. While the physicians are brilliant movers and shakers who change lives, Patrice is--to paraphrase our good friend Dr. Phil --a cute little nurse who's looking to marry her a physician because that's her ticket out of having to work as a nurse. Obviously, nursing doesn't require much in the brains department, since Patrice was able to spend her college years getting wasted and hanging out with surfers. Of course, the show's "naughty nurse" imagery also plays into tired stereotypes that discourage practicing and potential nurses, encourage sexual violence in the workplace, and undermine nurses' arguments for adequate clinical and other resources at a time of critical shortage. But the show also manages to work in a battleaxe theme, as Patrice uses her open sexual obsession to trick Malcolm into donating some sperm, a moral wrong that may soon grow to become an ethical and/or legal one as well. Malcolm does not even seem too surprised that Patrice would want to service him, even though he has just rejected her. That's just the kind of sad, dependent sexbot she is. But she'll show him!

Here's something else it seems to mean: nurses exist to serve as disposable physician sex toys (or ducks). Think we're making too much of these two episodes? Then consider the NBC site's description of hotshot physician Nora's departure from one former hospital: "she was slapped with a sexual harassment suit by a bedded-then-rejected male nurse. When the case went to trial, Nora turned the tables and proved to the jury that the crime she was accused of was committed daily by the male doctors and not one of them had ever been charged -- she walked away with a handsome settlement." We can't fully explore the incoherence of this gibberish from a legal standpoint, as Nora's "sexual harassment suit" swings from civil suit to criminal case and back again.

But the underlying messages from the show seem pretty clear. Nurses are there to provide physicians with diversionary sexual pleasure. Feminism in health care consists of smart, ambitious women making it as physicians, so that they can duplicate the casual domination of nurses that has long been deemed the province of male physicians. Although the show is obviously again pushing the idea that nurses are pathetic sexual strivers out to snare a physician, note that the site does not actually deny that Nora sexually harassed the "bedded-then-rejected" nurse. It doesn't care whether she has or not. It celebrates the fact that she was able to exert her power over nurses just as men like Malcolm do. This is arguably the ultimate sacrifice at the altar of testosterone: far from the being made whole, the victims of powerful women should be penalized for daring to challenge any abuse that men commonly get away with. As we have said before, the mass media regards nurses (whether male or female) as the new women.

Don't let us give you the impression that "Inconceivable" presents all nurses as petty, vindictive sexual objects. Sure, it does also show that male patient preparing to produce his sperm sample by watching a naughty nurse porn video. We see a bit of this movie in which a sultry female "nurse" with lots of cleavage approaches an attractive female patient in bed. Patient: "You're not my doctor!" Nurse: "No, I'm Vicki. I'm here to get your vitals." The patient responds: "Well, let's not keep the doctor waiting!" Two ordinary-looking fertility clinic nurses conclude that this patient will take awhile because that movie has a "plot." Neither nurse has any problem with showing patients a video that degrades her own profession. After all, no one really thinks of nurses as sexually available bimbos, as if they were unskilled workers with plenty of time to have sex with patients and physicians in the workplace! Except, of course, those who have made "Inconceivable" and many other Hollywood products. Maybe the producers should have had clinic patients watch episodes of the show itself, but that would probably be a little too post-modern for such a conventional drama. Meanwhile, the two nurses are having an inane chat about lunch--should they have Chinese or Italian? The camera follows them down the hall to Rachel, who ignores them as she gives prospective patients a tour of the clinic and raves that Malcolm is "one of the top fertility doctors in Los Angeles."

At another point, Rachel, two men and their surrogate celebrate the arrival of the men's child in the surrogate's hospital room. One of the men calls out: "Nurse!" An urgent plea for life-saving nursing skills? Or perhaps a question about something that doesn't seem quite right about the baby? In fact, they want the nurse to take their picture, which she happily does.

NBC aired only two episodes of "Inconceivable" before canceling the show because of its abysmal ratings. But those two episodes presented millions of impressionable viewers with a remarkably regressive vision of nursing. Unfortunately, the show was not quite inconceivable enough.

Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Last updated: October 30, 2005

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.

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