Hospital shows of all stripes have emphasized the importance of nurses in medical care, yet almost all of them have kept the spotlight on doctors. At least temporarily, Showtime reverses the pattern with Nurse Jackie, luring Sopranos star Edie Falco back to episodic television for the title role.

Hospital shows of all stripes have emphasized the importance of nurses in medical care, yet almost all of them have kept the spotlight on doctors. At least temporarily, Showtime reverses the pattern with Nurse Jackie, luring Sopranos star Edie Falco back to episodic television for the title role.

The pilot episode establishes Jackie as no-nonsense, committed and caring, and it's hard to imagine another actress in the part since Jackie and Carmela Soprano share a defining trait: a tempered steel backbone.

Ironically, however, the first of Jackie's unique weaknesses is revealed by back pain: a carefully managed addiction to painkillers. She also has a risky way of meting out justice, such as "losing" the severed ear of a remorseless criminal.

Jackie's actions spin a standard type - a medical pro with unorthodox methods - into something newly absorbing and thought-provoking, though it remains to be seen whether the rest of the show can keep up with her.

Showtime's scheduled Nurse Jackie to debut after the fifth season premiere of Weeds in hopes of holding onto Weeds' audience for another half-hour. The move does more than create a network power hour; by putting Jackie and Nancy Botwin together, Showtime has also conjoined two of most interesting female characters on television.