In its first season without "ER," NBC is mounting two new medical shows. Neither focuses on doctors, however, which some may consider a relief. (I try not to focus on doctors myself.) "Trauma," which begins next week, is about EMTs in San Francisco; "Mercy," which begins tonight, follows a group of Jersey City nurses whose often messy private lives are interrupted regularly by their often thankless jobs.
Haughty patient: "Nurses! What are you good for anyway?"
Nurse Veronica: "Well, we do try to keep the doctors from killing you."
Veronica Callahan (Taylor Schilling) is at the center of it all. She is the only character whose family we meet -- they drink -- and her tangled love life involves two other series regulars: Diego Klattenhoff as her unhappily estranged husband and strong, silent-ish James Tupper, from "Men in Trees," as the doctor she slept with while serving in Iraq. That tour of duty has also given her a practical knowledge of battlefield medicine, resulting in a sense of empowerment inimical to the hierarchy of a civilian hospital, and a solid case of post-traumatic stress disorder. She has bad dreams and a tendency to duck and cover at sudden loud noises.
Tonight's episode -- which has been happily tightened from the pilot sent to critics early in the summer -- begins with Veronica saving a man's life with a flexible straw and ends with her helping the above-quoted haughty cancer patient decide what to do with the rest of her abbreviated life. ("You're the only one here who's been honest with me," says patient.)
In between she runs up against doctors -- none, not even the one she likes, as diagnostically acute or understanding as she -- goes this way and that in her love life, refuses to drink with her alcoholic parents, does drink in the only bar the characters will ever hang out in and gets chewed out by boss Delroy Lindo for her too-free tongue. "I will fire you," he says. "Don't think I won't." Actually, I don't think he will.
Joining Veronica on duty are nurse Sonia (Jaime Lee Kirchner), who walks a hospital corridor as if it were a Bryant Park runway, and naive new nurse Chloe (Michelle Trachtenberg). In her Hello Kitty smock, Trachtenberg is a world away from the Bad Seed she plays on "Gossip Girl." When not at work, the nurses are often to be found wearing something tight and revealing, except for nurse Angel (Guillermo Diaz), who is male and not built like a model.
The show, which was slated for midseason and swapped places at the last minute with the delayed "Parenthood," looks very good. Like "Friday Night Lights," on which "Mercy" creator Liz Heldens was a co-executive producer, it aims visually for a kind of middle- to lower-middle-class realism, which is somewhat undermined by the beauty of the players. (This is a common TV problem.) But the hospital looks like a hospital here and not, as in, say, "House," the latest Ian Schrager hotel.
As for what transpires there, in spite of some talented actors, it all seems more scripted than lived, referring not the world but a world of things you've seen on TV, handled well enough to make "Mercy" passable, but never exceptional, television.
When: 8 tonight
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)