Hello, Emily Owens, I must be going

Saturday October 27, 2012

I am right now watching the pilot episode of "Emily Owens, M.D." This is the equivalent of a live blog, except, of course, that you'll be reading it days after the event, possibly not even online. But does anyone follow live blogs, really? Yes, I did. I followed a live blog of the Emmys. It was a not-horrible way to pass the time while I waited for ravioli to boil.

Does the fact that I can write and watch this show at the same time reflect poorly on it? I don't think so. Maybe. In its defense, it is on the CW, which doesn't exactly produce can't-look-away drama like "The Wire." You are supposed to knit or cook dinner or tweet, for Pete's sake, during a CW show, and the soundtrack will cue you to the important welling-up moments of great lesson-learning or loss. Am I right? Yes, I'm right.

This is not a slam against Emily Owens. So far, the good doctor has started her first day of residency at a big hospital in Denver. She was smart and unpopular in high school, tormented by her own anxious mind and the pretty girls, the "nefarious" ones, in Emily's lexicon. One of her tormentors, Cassandra, is also a first-year resident at the same hospital. The attending physician is mean. Emily has a huge crush on a classmate from med school, also a resident. Patients unreasonably expect her to act like, you know, a doctor.

As TV is an entirely derivative art form, to steal an observation from Dan Harmon, Emily comes from a long line of insecure young doctors facing their demons and growing up while caring for the seriously ill and photogenic. J.D. on "Scrubs." John Carter on "ER." Everyone on "Grey's Anatomy." All the people on "St. Elsewhere" I don't know because I never watched it. Even House on "House," or the young doctors who worked for him.

Dr. Owens is most like J.D., brilliant despite total dorkiness, fond of the comic or pensive voiceover to dramatize inner struggle, and perpetually optimistic about the human condition. (For example, just now Dr. Owens helped convince a woman not to abandon her mother suffering advanced Alzheimer's; encouraged a 12-year-old girl about to undergo heart surgery to tell the boy she likes that she likes him; and made temporary peace with nefarious Cassandra. The world is amazing, even in the pilot episode!)

They also, not that it really matters, both have large noses and big puppy dog eyes and look pretty good in blue scrubs.

Here's the difference. J.D. earned his hopeful, goofy sincerity through the nuthouse-slapstick genius that made "Scrubs" unlike any other comedy I've seen. You can get away with learning lots of life lessons at the end of every 22 minutes if you have a pet taxidermied dog named Rowdy.

I'm not sure, watching Emily Owens right now both impress and annoy her attending physician in the O.R., how this show balances its well-articulated, conveniently-plotted heartfelt goop. Yes, I am sure. It doesn't. This is a program that is easy to watch and easy to forget. It doesn't ask anything of its audience, and it contributes nothing original or interesting to the canon of medical semi-dramas from which it comes.

That's OK. I don't mind fluff. The pace is brisk and the dialogue is straightforward, which is the right choice when you're peddling heartstrings. I cannot say it is a bad show. Plus, Emily is played by Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep's daughter. It's strange and sweet to see the mother's exquisite cheekbones and lively eyes in the daughter's face. Gummer is a warm, smart, physical presence on screen, clearly capable of more silliness and seriousness than presently asked of her.

I find a worse flaw, though, in "Emily Owens, M.D.," and this one will likely keep me from watching more episodes. Emily's big problem is that she's insecure, that she feels like she's back in high school even though she's a doctor. Also, the boy she likes doesn't like her back, and people think she's odd-looking even though she is clearly gorgeous.

I really don't see those problems as a reason to make a television series, even on the CW. Then again, who am I to judge? Would I even know a good reason if I saw one?

Yes, yes, I would. Get a load of this line from the recent season finale of "Warehouse 13," spoken by the inimitable CCH Pounder as the mysterious Mrs. Frederick:

"The prophecy of the Astrolabe has come to pass."

Now that keeps me watching TV.

Becky Karush is a regular contributor to the Reformer.


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