October 24, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “Emily Owens, MD”

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

EMILY OWENS, MD:  Tuesday 9PM on CW

Previously… on EMILY OWENS, MD:  Emily (Mamie Gummer) is a eager, compassionate, somewhat neurotic brand-new intern at Denver Memorial Hospital.  She’s surrounded by a group of largely horrible people:  Cassandra (Aja Naomi KIng) is literally the very Mean Girl who made her life miserable in high school; Will (Justin Hartley), her best friend from medical school, has rejected her romantic advances; her attending, Dr. Bandari, is a cold-fish scourge; and even her supposed new friend Tyra (Kelly McCreary) manipulates her to proposition a nurse on her behalf, causing hospital-wide rumors that Emily is a rapacious lesbian.  Tyra is also the daughter of the Chief of Surgery (Harry Lennix), whom Emily discovers in a stairwell with one of the nurses.  The only potentially bright spot is resident Micah (Michael Rady), who has his own problems, his mother having just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Episode 2:  Emily’s second day at Denver Memorial is even more annoying to watch than her first, which is quite a feat. Series creator Jessie Snyder Urman, who wrote the script (directed by Bharat Nalluri) makes a fatal mistake:  the dynamic of the show, which has Emily as a put-upon, dithering idiot in every facet of her personal life, requires her to at least be a great doctor–if she’s not, the show becomes nothing more than an hour of masochism, and 50 Shades of Gray notwithstanding, that’s not much fun.  In this episode, she’s merely well-meaning:  when she diagnoses a brain tumor in someone who seemed to have OCD, it’s because she’s literally been handed a piece of paper that shows the woman is having serious cognitive problems (and the patient dies anyway), and her cardiac patient lives to see his grandson make it through graduate school because he, not Emily, insists on having a dangerous surgery.  The upshot is that Emily comes off as simply a fool–unlike all the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy, or Zoe on Hart of Dixie, whose personal lives were a mess and who made medical mistakes, but who were clearly gifted at what they do.

All one can do is squirm while watching Emily, who’s stalked by the kind of voice-over narration that has her say “Act normal” just before she behaves like an idiot, or “Don’t cry” as she’s about to blubber.  (You wish the show could turn post-modern for just a minute so she could separate from her narrator self and stab her with a scalpel.)  Oddly–or not?–for a show created and written by a woman, the female characters come off as far more awful than the men:  Cassandra is a bitch, Tyra seemingly more sociopathic than charming (completely heedless that she’s ruined her new “friend’s” reputation), and Dr. Bandari an ice queen.  In contrast, the men are merely lummoxes.  It’s all rather unpleasant.

The one thing Emily Owens does have going for it is Emily, in the person of Gummer.  She may be a string of rom-com cliches balled up in one (after she’s denied twice that she kept the years-old voicemail from Will that said he wanted to date her, is there any doubt we’ll hear the message before the episode is over? or that after finally deleting it, she’ll immediately try to get it back?), but she manages to come across as somehow recognizably human and appealingly resilient.  Gummer is very accomplished in the role, but truthfully, it’s not enough to redeem the rest of the wreckage.

Emily Owens got off to a lousy start in the ratings last week, and there’s nothing to suggest it has the ingredients needed to build an audience.  Of course, on CW, it doesn’t take much to justify sticking around, so the show may well survive for a while.  If it doesn’t start finding some shred of intelligence soon, though, creatively it’s going to be strictly Code Blue.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else is On…

PILOT + 1:  New Girl.  Happy Endings.  Go On.  There’s No Shortage of Good TV at 9PM on Tuesdays.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."