Tuesday night the CW premiered its foray into the medical world with the new drama Emily Owens, M.D. Starring Mamie Gummer (the glorious offspring of the great Meryl Streep), Emily Owens is a med school grad beginning her surgical internship at Denver Memorial Hospital, and she just can’t seem to shake her high school insecurities. Whether it’s her nefarious school days nemesis Cassandra (Aja Naomi King) passively aggressively undermining her every move, her med school friend/fellow intern/secret crush Will (Justin Hartley), or her demanding, intimidating idol, the brilliant Dr. Bandari (Necar Zadegan), Emily finds herself anxiety-ridden in a lifestyle that's stressful enough as it is. But there’s a ray of sunlight in her new job: Micah (Michael Rady), her resident, who not only helps her put things in perspective, but maybe, just maybe, likes her as more than just a mentee. Boom: requisite love triangle established.
Watching the season premiere last night, I was shocked by the show’s similarities to another, famous long-running medical drama. You know the one I’m talking about. The one whose doctors recently survived a plane crash on a mysterious island where the Dharma Initiative was born and are now running around with a revengenda hunting villains with a bow and arrow and… wait, I’m getting confused!
Deep breath. Let’s start over. I'm talking about Grey’s Anatomy. Emily Owens, M.D. seemed to be almost a carbon copy of ABC’s veteran medical drama. Now, medical dramas are obviously going to see some crossover. That’s unavoidable. But this isn't merely a few coincidences here and there. The entire show’s structure was practically the same, and those similarities can’t be ignored:
1. The voice-over/narration by the titular doc throughout the episode, kind of like Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) in every episode, ever.
2. The emotional monologues from the characters, telling (not showing) how they feel and explaining their actions, a.k.a. Grey's Anatomy, also in every episode, ever.
3. The brilliant, yet bitchy doctor all the interns fear and idolize, much like Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) in Grey's earlier seasons.
4. Emily’s profession of love in a bumbling speech to her best guy friend, which has happened to just about every character on Grey's Anatomy.
5. The lesbian intern struggling with the implications of her sexuality, much like Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez).
6. The Chief of surgery cheating on his wife with another hospital employee, just like the Chief Webber cheating on Adele with Meredith's mother.
7. The patients’ medical drama eerily mirroring the doctors' relationship drama, giving the patients the opportunity to give advice that conveniently and completely solves all the doctors’ dilemmas. Once again, this is every episode of Grey's Anatomy ever.
Now, that’s a whole lotta similarities going on. The comparisons should completely turn viewers off, and yet, it works.
Somehow the few, small-yet-game-changing differences completely change the entire tone of the show and the result is really quite charming. For one thing, after Emily’s profession of love to Will, her crush completely shuts her down, saying he just sees her as a friend. It was awkward. It was uncomfortable. It was mortifying. And it was totally realistic.
Unlike Grey’s Anatomy’s epic love stories and heartfelt confessions that are few and far between in real life, having a crush not return your feelings happens more than we’d all care to admit. That “just friends” response Will gives to Emily slams the swelling romantic background music to a jarring halt, quickly reminding us this was one happy ending that isn't going to play out. Emily raids the vending machines and camps out in a stairwell to nurse her wounded pride. Girl, I’m with you on that one. Life isn’t pretty, and Emily does the best she can with the lemons she's given.
And another significant difference is that Emily – unlike Meredith Grey’s "dark, twisty" personality – is light, happy, and optimistic. Even after her heart is stomped on by the guy she’s been crushing on for years, a quick pep talk with Micah puts her life in perspective, and she puts that smile back on her face and gets back to work with a kick in her step. Faced with her high school nemesis, she remains upbeat and confronts her, determined to not let anything stop her from being a good doctor.
This sunnier disposition can partly be attributed to Gummer’s brilliant portrayal of Emily. She conveys emotions and feelings with subtle shifts in her facial expressions and the tone of her voice is astounding. It could have something to do with her good genes – being Meryl Streep's daughter never hurts. No other comment will be made of her parentage, though. Gummer clearly has talent, and I don’t care whether it is learned or inherited. As long as I get to see her on my TV Tuesday nights, that's fine by me.
The effect of these few changes made this show (at least, the pilot) worth watching. Only time will tell if the rest of the season continues on this trend. And in the words of Emily Owens herself at the end of the pilot: “Oh come on. It’s gotta get better than this—right?”
Emily Owens, M.D. airs Tuesday nights on the CW.
Follow Sydney on Twitter @SydneyBucksbaum
[Photo Credit: Jack Rowand/The CW]