TV Review: Mamie Gummer Deserves Better Than Manipulative ‘Emily Owens, M.D.’

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CHICAGO – I really like Mamie Gummer, not only the daughter of our best living actress (Meryl Streep) but an increasingly interesting performer in her own right. Her charisma and ability kept me in a position where I was trying to make excuses for the poorly written, poorly directed, poorly conceived “Emily Owens, M.D.,” premiering tonight on The CW. I ran out of them before the end of the first episode. Television Rating: 1.5/5.0
Television Rating: 1.5/5.0

Gummer plays the title character, a neurotic, awkward TV type who is forced to be a girl in an adult’s world (except for when she’s saving lives and then she, conveniently, loses her geeky girl aesthetic). Emily Owens is such an exaggerated character — the kind of girl who uses the word crush multiple times (in a hospital), makes uncomfortable faces when talking to the Chief of Staff (the great Harry Lennix), and wouldn’t last a day in a real world high-pressure situation of an actual hospital. Emily Owens is 100% a TV creation and it’s frustrating to watch a talented actress like Gummer fight against the cliches and try to bring something genuine to a character that is nothing but fiction.

Emily Owens, M.D.
Emily Owens, M.D.
Photo credit: The CW

The set-up is simple but misguided — take the dynamic of a high school drama and move it to a hospital. Emily was the awkward girl in the hallways of school and she is the same at Denver Memorial Hospital. There’s the popular girl, Cassandra (Aja Naomi King), who, of course, is the same girl who tormented her in high school, and even her medical school crush, Will Collins (Justin Hartley). Another intern, Tyra Dupre (Kelly McCreary), warns Emily Owens that the cliques at the hospital are the same as they were in high school. Different kinds of surgeons form different groups that shun the other ones. And Emily is caught in the middle again.

The very foundation of “Emily Owens, M.D.” is inherently, annoying flawed. I understand the motivation behind it. The target audience for The CW is a young one. “Look, kids! Adults with actual jobs are just like you!” That wouldn’t be that much of a problem if the writers of “Emily Owens” played it tongue in cheek, like they knew this was broad, unrealistic writing. Instead, they fatally go in the other direction and try and tether the high school concept to manipulative stories involving patients on the brink of death. It’s like “Mean Girls” with brain tumors.

It’s those tonal switches in “Emily Owens, M.D.” that really bury the solid work done here by Gummer (and, to be fair, Lennix and Michael Rady as Emily’s closest ally and likely love interest at the hospital). The show goes from silly scenes like Owens talking about her crushes to serious ones like deciding whether or not to go through with chemo when the chance of survival is low. That kind of tonal juggling is difficult and this show absolutely fails as both awkward coming-of-age story and hospital drama. Someone find a better show for Mamie Gummer, stat!

“Emily Owens, M.D.” stars Mamie Gummer, Justin Hartley, Michael Rady, Aja Naomi King, Kelly McCreary, Necar Zadegan, and Harry Lennix. It premieres on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 8pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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