There’s something exciting about watching the first two episodes of the second season of Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie.” One might say it’s akin to the feeling of seeing a child reach his full potential.
The New York City hospital drama starring gritty, strong-willed Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”) was always enjoyable, but the show’s first season paled in comparison to what other shows on HBO, Showtime and AMC were dishing out in 2009.
The first season, at times, felt like a short story, decompressed and stretched painfully into 12 episodes. True, all this time allowed for character building, but the main plot of the show — the fact that Jackie was cheating on husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) with her co-worker Eddie (Paul Schulze) — didn’t come close to hitting the fan until the season one finale.
With the beginning of the second season of “Nurse Jackie,” we’re done with all that set up, and we’ve entered into the intriguing second act — the one with all the twists and turns. Now that Eddie knows about Jackie’s husband, what happens now? Another compelling guessing game arises — when will Kevin find out about Eddie? — but it is much more compelling week in and week out because, in the wake of his breakup with Jackie, Eddie is an emotionally fragile ticking time bomb.
Schulze stood out as the highlight of the first three seasons of “24” as Ryan Chappelle, and he’s the highlight of “Nurse Jackie.” He’s got this hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it demeanor. He comes off as villainous at times in season two, but he’s so likeable in general that it’s hard for the viewer not to revel in Eddie’s madness, yet he holds the key to the unraveling of Jackie’s entire life.
When the viewer first sees Eddie in season two, he’s being wheeled into the hospital, treated for an overdose. A distraught Jackie freaks out at Eddie’s erratic behavior. But Eddie, numb after the pain Jackie’s caused him, is transparent about the fact that the overdose was merely a cry for attention. “I’m a pharmacist,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I know exactly how much not to take.”
In the new season’s second episode, Eddie returns to the bar where Kevin serves alcohol and strikes up another of their off-putting, friendly conversations. Eddie goes for pitch-black humor when he catches up Kevin on his life by saying he tried to kill himself to get a girl’s attention. He quickly adds that he’s “just kidding,” but the forced grin on his face as Kevin serves him a beer makes one wonder when exactly Eddie will go over the edge during these visits.
Things are even getting dramatic in unexpected places. Thor, the gay male nurse used in the past merely as comedic relief, reveals to Jackie that he lost eyesight in one eye, due to his diabetes. Jackie finds Thor lying on a church pew and eating donuts. He laments about comfort food. “Why do the things that are so bad for you make you feel the best?” he asks. So far Thor is filling in admirably for Mohammed, Jackie’s close male co-worker during season one who isn’t around this year.
Even with these changes and developments, the hilarious status quo is still in place, with Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli) and Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best) bringing much of the humor to the show. The young, eccentric Dr. Cooper is still wigging out over the lack of respect he perceives from Jackie, as well as his coming to terms with his general low opinion of nurses. Dr. O’Hara tries to mitigate grief in the zaniest ways possible, like coming to work high on ecstasy. Hilarity ensues, of course.
In the season two world of “Nurse Jackie,” perhaps the show needs Dr. Cooper and Dr. O’Hara more than ever. Jackie’s usually crabby, but we’ve never seen her as out-of-her-mind angry as she was when talking to Eddie for the first time in months after Eddie’s overdose. The audience needs the comedic interludes to fill the gaps between the emotional carnage that the Jackie-Kevin-Eddie plotline is sure to cause soon enough.
“Nurse Jackie” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on Showtime. To view the season two premiere, visit http://www.sho.com.

Four stars