Review: ‘Emily Owens, M.D.’ — love it or hate it, it’s up to the viewer

Mamie Gummer and Michael Rady star in "Emily Owens, M.D."
(Michael Courtney / The CW)

I happen to like “Emily Owens, M.D.,” the CW’s new medical comedy, which is also its new medical drama. It is smartly written and well played and stars Mamie Gummer, who has been sneaking up on television via “John Adams,” the short-lived “Off the Map” and a delightful recurring role on “The Good Wife.” But I can see that this series, which premieres Tuesday, is also going to be very much a matter of taste.

If I call it a cross between “New Girl” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” an incomplete but not inaccurate comparison, well, I can already hear some doors slam shut. Alternately, to point out that creator Jennie Snyder Urman is a veteran of “Men in Trees,” “Gilmore Girls” and “90210,” which, blended together, gives a fair idea of the show’s style and intentions, would be precisely to describe many viewers’ vision of hell.

But not mine.

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The point the pilot makes, explicitly and perhaps to a fault, is that a hospital is a lot like a high school. Kinda-kooky, corkscrew-haired, likely new best friend Tyra (Kelly McCreary), a high-school-movie character-type herself, lays it all out as they walk a hospital hall on Emily’s first day: “You got your jocks, a.k.a, the orthopedic surgeons; mean girls are into plastics; your all-American girl-next-door-types, they’re going to be in OB; the true geeks, they’re the neurologists; the rebels are in ER; stoners, anesthesia.” But surgery, where Emily is, is “a melting pot... which means basically none of us get along.”

The show has something of the flavor of a young adult novel, which is why it seems good for the CW, home to “The Vampire Diaries” and “Gossip Girl,” and for that matter, another female-doctor series, “Hart of Dixie.” It is a series that isn’t exactly for grown-ups, or perhaps better said, it is for people who haven’t entirely grown up.

Emily, whose insecurities belie her native doctoring genius — she has a head for facts and a heart full of love — has her own personal mean girl, Cassandra (Aja Naomi King), who has tormented her since they were actually in high school together. Cassandra is not, contra the above, in plastics, but is a fellow surgeon, as eager as Emily to work under the celebrated Dr. Gina Bandari (Necar Zadegan), who has pioneered some sort of heart valve replacement whose name I could not catch no matter how many times it was said.

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She also has a crush, Will (Justin Hartley), whom she knew in medical school: “I’m going to move over a few inches so our shoulders are touching — if he doesn’t move, then he likes me,” she says in voice-over as they watch an MRI side by side. Meanwhile, her new supervisor (Michael Rady) seems primed to like her, should forthcoming episodes come forth.

Gummer, whose sharp features recall those of her mother, Meryl Streep, has the sort of unconventional beauty that allows us on the one hand to take her seriously and on the other to see her as the self-conscious outsider the script insists she is. (“I wasn’t one of those kids that thrived in high school,” are the first words she says.) And like her mother, she is an actress I find myself watching act, pleasurably conscious of the performance in a way that doesn’t interfere with but adds to my appreciation of the character.

Medical dramas are tired horses, it can sometimes feel like, worked nearly to death. Yet they still carry a great load of Big Themes and Eternal Questions. The life-and-death daily business of a big-city hospital provides a stage for action and reflection, and “Emily Owens, M.D.” follows in that tradition, among others.


‘Emily Owens, M.D.’

Where: KTLA

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)


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