Every so often, a show comes along that is so popular, at least in a certain niche, and lasts so long, that when it finally goes off the air (or becomes so laughably bad as to not exist) it actually creates a tangible void… or at least seems to do so to the suits. When this happens, there’s a rush to fill that space, because there’s nothing television execs love more than a pre-made, pre-programmed audience. We can all think of such shows, and the rush of similar creatures that get thrown out to try to capture the market.
In this case, the relevant “void” is that left by Grey’s Anatomy, both because it’s leaving soon, and because it went off the deep end long ago. Here’s a show that already has more than its fair share of hopeful usurpers, going back to the failed Off the Map, and several efforts before and since.
Once in a while, someone approaches this particular bent of show construction with the idea that maybe we can go in a new direction. As opposed to, let’s say, just slapping together Grey’s 2.0 – We’re in the Jungle, what if we took the general idea (not that it’s original or unique by any stretch) that seemed to work, and adapt that into something that tells a different story, as seen from a different perspective.
Emily Owen M.D. is exactly such a construction, and while going the route I hope I’m describing doesn’t guarantee a decent product by any means, this time I think we’re onto something. Not only is Emily Owens (Mamie Gummer) overflowing with geek charm, but the show itself reveals its connections to Gilmore Girls in the most positive ways, and for the right demographic… that’s probably all the review the show needs.
The show’s shtick, at least during its establishment, is that Emily Owens, a doctor starting as an intern at a prestigious hospital, discovers that working at a hospital is like High School all over again, and here comes Freshman year. As if the generalities weren’t bad enough (one group of Doctors are the Jocks, etc.), she’s actually found herself working for one of the “mean girls” that made her life hell in High School.
Where it finds its difference (if being infused with Gilmore Girls isn’t enough for you) is in the fact that it’s clearly aiming for a lighter kind of comfort television, and in its (apparent) commitment to a less, and more tangibly, self-assured star. Emily talks to us through voice-over, and she not only relates her doubts and various moments of disbelief, but in the pilot, already throws out one of life’s big lies… that at some point you actually become older. The Hospital/High School angle gives us a connection to this idea, and as Emily moves along, she realizes that one of the places she expected to get in life isn’t a place at all, but some shadowy construct we all seem to imagine exists.
“Older people know what they’re doing, and one day I’ll get there,” is a kind of mantra that has held Emily together, and when she was the awkward teen, she clung to that while mean girls swirled around her. Now she’s a Doctor, and it begins to feel as if she’s seeing behind the curtain. Uncertain of herself before, but always confident in her course, we now show up for her, “Oh my God! Who’s flying this plane?” moment.
Just that honesty, especially in a vehicle aimed at a somewhat younger market, puts things in an entirely different perspective, and the show’s supporting cast is made to fit the construction perfectly.
It’s a little dry in its humor, and soft with its drama, more concerned with a believable reality in the one case, and its characters in the other. You have to hope it stays on that course, because veering off on either loses the heart. That said, the show looks as though it isn’t absolutely sure how to avoid diving into the syrupy when it does get to the statements it wants to make, but that may just be a result of the whirlwind establishment necessary in the pilot.
It’s always tricky to really judge a show by a pilot (though that’s what everyone has to do), because where it settles is often world’s apart from where you thought it was going, but this one (lighter fare though it may be) is among the most intriguing I’ve seen in a while, and the writers that put this together just so lead me to hope.
You can catch the pilot early below.