October 13, 2012

TV: Emily Owens, M.D. (CW, Tue 9)

Premieres on Tuesday night; first episode is available now at the CW website.

Emily Owens, M.D. is an attempt to stretch the CW brand a bit beyond teenage girls by making a hospital show, but only a mild attempt, since it's a very CW version of a hospital show. Mamie Gummer stars as Emily, who arrives at Denver General Hospital as a first-year surgical intern to find that her fellow first-years include her medical school crush Will (Justin Hartley) and her high school nemesis Cassandra (Aja Naomi King). They're all there to work with Dr. Gina Bandari (Necar Zadegan), a skilled and innovative surgeon who prefers brusque intimidation as a management style.

A hospital, we are explicitly told in Emily's voice-over narration, is just like high school; the doctors can be divided into jocks, stoners, mean girls, and so on. Emily would like to be one of the cool kids, and the show combines standard medical procedural with light becoming-an-adult drama.

Mamie Gummer has immense charm and charisma. She does well with both the dramatic and the comic moments, and sells Emily's mix of professional skill and personal insecurity convincingly. The fact that she is Meryl Streep's daughter is surely something of a millstone that she is sick of carrying around her neck at this point, but it should be mentioned, if only to keep you from spending the entire hour with a nagging "who is it she reminds me of" at the back of your head.

The other characters are given a bit more depth than you might expect, and the relationships are developed more quickly and in surprising ways. Cassandra isn't just the nasty bitch, though she is that (and she takes some pride in the fact); Will isn't reduced to a source of unresolved "will they or won't they" tension.

Emily Owens, M.D. isn't a particularly deep or sophisticated show, but it does have a surprising bright charm and it's pleasant, easy watching. It's smartly paired with Hart of Dixie, which is the CW version of Northern Exposure; both are light, breezy entertainment, and the worst you can say about either is that they occasionally feel like the TV version of training wheels, helping the CW tween/teen audience get used to watching shows about grownups.

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