EMILY OWENS, MD: Tuesday 9PM on CW – If Nothing Else Is On…
Say this for EMILY OWENS, MD: it really makes you appreciate Shonda Rhimes. The seeming ease with which Grey’s Anatomy mixes medical drama, soap opera, humor, sex and romance every week is tempting to take for granted, but really it’s a tribute to Rhimes’ skill and that of her writing staff and actors. Try to do the same thing with less expertise and the result is Emily Owens, a ramshackle duplicate with all the seams showing.
Emily Owens, created by Jennie Snyder Urman (previously of 90210) is very upfront about what it has in mind. Within the first few minutes of the pilot, Emily (Mamie Gummer) is told twice that life at a hospital is just like high school, complete with jocks, nerds, mean girls, etc., and in case we weren’t clear about it, Emily says “I’ve been told that twice!” just to underscore its importance. And on the off-chance that we still don’t get it, when Emily arrives for work as an intern on her first day at Denver Memorial Hospital, she discovers that the very same mean girl who was her tormentor in high school, Cassandra Kopelson (Aja Naomi King), is her fellow intern now. Emily herself, while a superb doctor in her mid-20s, is very much a dork, as she’ll be the first tell you in her narration that Just. Won’t. Shut. Up. (It makes Meredith’s narration on Grey’s Anatomy seem like haiku.) Compassionate and kind but constantly blundering, she’s always picking the worst possible moment to say what’s on her mind, especially when it comes to Will Collins (Justin Hartley), on whom she’s had a crush since med school. She hasn’t yet noticed Micah Ellis (Michael Rady), the resident on her service, who’s certainly noticed her. Emily’s budding best friend is Tyra (Kelly McCreary), who happens to be the lesbian daughter of the Chief of Surgery (Jack Coleman), closeted only from him. The voice of authority on the ward is Dr. Gina Beckett (Necar Zadegan), in whose imperious glow of genius all the interns have come to bask.
The show is harmlessly predictable. Over the course of the pilot, Emily helpfully mixes herself into the private lives of each of her patients, always ultimately for the better, while she gorges on Ring Dings and agonizes over her own insecurities. Gummer is basically playing a slightly duller, sillier version of the doctor she played in Off the Map (produced by, how do you like that, Shonda Rhimes). She’s fairly charming, and would be more so if Urman didn’t beat every aspect of Emily’s personality into the ground. Urman can tell an efficient story (the straightforward direction is by Bharat Nalluri), but she doesn’t know from subtlety: there’s literally a scene where Micah explains to Emily that despite her romantic woes, she’s not having the worst possible day because other people–you know, the patients–are missing their limbs or dying of advanced pancreatic cancer. (If Emily had punched him for that display of smugness, the show might have had more promise.) It’s the kind of writing where a character praises how perfect her parents’ marriage is, and within 2 minutes of screen time, we’ve learned that one of them is having an affair. By the end of the pilot, two of the characters have already had sad secrets exposed (three, if you count Tyra not being able to tell her father the truth about herself), and it’s certain that there are more to come.
Emily Owens was designed as a companion piece to its Tuesday night lead-in, Hart of Dixie, which also features a knockout lovably dorkish doctor at its center. Dixie, though (which is far from a smash hit itself), also has a little Gilmore Girls in its DNA, which makes its personal stories more diverting and the dialogue a bit sharper. (Emily also faces New Girl in the timeslot, which is a sitcom but has a heroine with similar appeal.) The biggest problem for Emily Owens, though, is that it really is like high school: it’s like the senior class production of a Grey’s Anatomy sweeps episode.