Showtime season premieres of 3 top shows

Nurse Jackie (Showtime) "Nurse Jackie," with Edie Falco

Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

"Nurse Jackie," with Edie Falco as a pill-popping nurse, is vying for an Emmy award for outstanding comedy series. Falco got a nod for outstanding lead actress. "Nurse Jackie" has got pep, but it's not enough to beat "30 Rock." (Credit: Showtime)

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SEASON PREMIERE "Nurse Jackie"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) is about to hit rock bottom and hit it hard. She's kicked husband Kevin (Dominic Fumusa) out of the house when he confessed to an affair, then promptly picks up a stranger -- who dies while both are smoking crack. She's finally forced into rehab -- and at the worst possible time, professionally. A multinational just bought All Saints Hospital, and the company's advance guard, Mike Cruz (Bobby Cannavale), is an efficiency freak looking to cut the fat.

MY SAY Cranky, caustic "Nurse Jackie" is also the funniest series on Showtime, and Sunday's premiere offers three or four lines that are as brittle -- and hilarious -- as any over the previous three seasons. All right, OK: Admittedly I haven't done a careful line by line analysis, but let's just say these are pretty good, and leave it at that. There's a simple calculus at work here. The greater a miscreant Jackie becomes, the more bleakly funny she becomes.

BOTTOM LINE Falco, Eve Best (Ellie O'Hara) and Anna Deavere Smith (Gloria Akalitus) are flawless, and . . . very amusing.

GRADE A-

SEASON PREMIERE "The Big C"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9:30 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT At the end of the second season, Paul (Oliver Platt) suffered a heart attack, and appeared to be a goner. And just as everything was going so well for his wife Cathy (Laura Linney), who had been admitted to an experimental program that could reverse her cancer. Sunday you'll learn -- and this isn't giving too much away -- that Paul has survived, while Cathy gets more medical news. Meanwhile, Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe) returns from a trip to Africa and forges a new friendship with Cathy's now-almost-normal/nice brother, Sean (John Benjamin Hickey).

MY SAY From the "Big C" to the "little c," cancer -- as a terrible disease and dramatic device for an entire series -- has gone into remission early in the third season. There's another disease to worry about (Paul's) instead and, with her own news possibly getting better, Cathy begins to develop an alter-ego. She hangs out at a neighborhood bar, pounds martinis and joins a local sports team. Another stage of grief? Maybe, but also a brand-new character-within-a-character for Linney to explore. Who is Cathy (really) and where will her story end up? The questions suddenly seem more interesting.

BOTTOM LINE First impression of the third season is a good one. Plus, some big guest stars (Victor Garber, Allison Janney, Mamie Gummer) will appear later on.

GRADE B

SEASON PREMIERE "The Borgias"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Pope Alexander VI -- Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) -- begins to do what any corrupt, sin-worshipping pope would do -- consolidate his power and eliminate his enemies, including Cardinal Della Rovere (Colm Feore), who will learn to be a little more careful the next time he drinks from the Eucharistic Chalice. The King of France, meanwhile, has been drawn into Naples -- a quagmire of disease and death -- leaving the pope free to wreak vengeance on his other enemies, rebuild Rome according to his own desires and bring his sons even closer.

MY SAY "Borgias" still seems largely buzz-deficient. Could this series actually be too high-minded for Showtime? "Sinners take all!" is the catchy promotional tags. But as sinners go, Irons' Alexander seems almost too nice: Sure he's an old libertine who dispatches enemies and has a wandering eye. But he's a pope who just wants to have fun and hang out with the "common people." The new season needs to up the ante -- not by becoming "Spartacus" but becoming more dramatically engrossing.

BOTTOM LINE Still very high quality, and still a tiny bit dull.

GRADE B+

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