What to Watch Tonight If You're Not Watching the Debate: 'Emily Owens, M.D.'

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If you can't stomach another damn debate tonight, fear not, there are other television options at 9pm. And, odd as it may sound, we recommend you check out the series premiere of The CW's Emily Owens, M.D., a cloying on the surface, charming on the inside little series about a young doctor. Yes, shows about flibbertigibbet young doctors mooning around hospitals are totally old hat, and sure that poster art with the butterflies in the chest X-ray are a bit manic-pixie, but the actual show, at least the pilot that we've seen, is quietly smarter than all that, and is worth giving a shot, at least.

The premise is pretty standard: A first-year intern at a Denver hospital (Denver of all places!) named, duh, Emily Owens is excited to embark on her new post-school adult life while still crushing on her hunky med school classmate Will, who's also just started at the same hospital. But her new grownup self is of course almost immediately thwarted by the presence of a fellow first-year named Cassandra, who, it turns out, was Emily's former high school bully. So, Emily can't escape the awkwardness and teasing persecution of high school, even though she's supposed to be a grownup doctor who's mature and calm and collected and all that. She's still flustered around her dream guy, the pretty mean girl still terrifies her, and she still sweats profusely when nervous, a habit that earned her the icky high school nickname "Pits." It's all setup for a lot of wacky, flighty gal stuff, and there is certainly some of that in the pilot, but there's also a little more grain and shading than the basic romcom framework implies.

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A lot of that extra and surprising nuance is owed to the fact that Emily is played by Mamie Gummer, an actress who is too smart to indulge the worst stereotypes of the genre. Gummer was previously enslaved on another medical show, the Shonda Rhimes-produced Grey's Anatomy-in-the-jungle Off the Map, but even on that grating show she managed to add some genuine wit and an almost mid-century kind of savvy to the role. On Emily Owens she's perky and pratfall-y, but she's also a warm and intelligent presence in a hospital room and more easy-going than those damn x-ray butterflies would suggest. It's a likable and unexpectedly understated, yet still off-beat, performance, one that almost manages to completely silence the "She's Meryl Streep's daughter, She's Meryl Streep's daughter" refrain echoing in your head.

She's well supported by both her castmates and the writing. The show was created by a Gilmore Girls writer named Jennie Snyder (who also produced on Lipstick Jungle, it should be cautioned) and that fast-talking show's influences are certainly evident. But where that show had, to us, a chord of cutesy smugness reverberating behind all the smiles and glossy brown hair, Emily Owens's undertones are more staid, even melancholy at moments. That's an interesting layer to put under an otherwise upbeat hospital romantic comedy, and we're curious to see how it grows or develops. Snyder's jokes are funny enough, her banter just south of twee, and she shies away from painting anyone with too broad a brush. Her actors do well with the material, particularly Kelly McCreary as the gay daughter of the hospital's chief resident, and Greek's lovable Michael Rady, playing another resident and the guy that Emily should really be pursuing.

Emily Owens isn't really breaking any new ground, but as Tuesday is currently a rather fallow TV landscape, and considering how lackluster most of the season's new shows have been, we think it's a bright spot on the schedule. Again, based simply on the one episode. The show could easily devolve into yet another nightmare of romantic cliches and pandering and soppy case-of-the-week stuff. But with Gummer and company in control, we're hoping it continues on in its idiosyncratic little way. We've a hard time seeing this becoming a ratings bonanza, generic as it initially seems, but it has sleeper potential, if people actually give it a chance. Which is what you should do. Forget those debate jerks. Go hang out with some silly people in Denver instead.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.