Emily Owens, M.D.
Created by Jennie Snyder Urman
Produced by CBS Television Studios, Warner Bros. Television, The Dan Jinks Company
Aired on The CW for 1 season (13 episodes) from October 16, 2012 – February 5, 2013
Mamie Gummer as Emily Owens
Justin Hartley as Will Collins
Aja Naomi King as Cassandra Kopelson
Kelly McCreary as Tyra Dupre
Michael Rady as Micah Barnes
Nicar Zadega as Gina Bandari
Former awkward teen and current medical school graduate Emily Owens begins her internship at Denver Memorial Hospital, where she will be trained under a well renowned surgeon, working side by side with her male friend crush, and making a fresh start for herself, leaving her dorky history behind her. That is, until she learns that she’ll also be working with her high school tormentor, who is intent to remind Emily of her place in the social ladder. Now Emily must compete for the approval of her hard to impress mentor, compartmentalize her feelings for her crush/friend, and make her daily rounds with a new patient each week.
The show mainly focuses on Emily working at the hospital as she balances her work relationships and her romantic relationships, also at the workplace, which consist of a slow building love triangle between Emily and two male doctors Will and Micah. The secondary plots are dedicated to her patients and how she resolves their medical issues as they relate to her current situation, either thematically or directly.
With the success of Shonda Rhimes’ hit series Grey’s Anatomy, it should be no surprise that networks would sign off on green-lighting new female led medical shows in order to imitate its success. In the fall of 2012, there was already Hart of Dixie and Private Practice on the schedule when three new shows came into the running to reach out to that audience as well. Those shows were The Mindy Project, Mob Doctor, and Emily Owens, M.D., three very different shows with a seemingly similar premise of following the exploits of a woman doctor protagonist. The difficulty of making a successful medical procedural show comes with how the producers try to differentiate their series from the others. Emily Owens, M.D. presented itself as a high school-like drama by filling the hospital with teen-like angst and romantic longing to go along with its medical procedural. This seems to be a fitting tactic for Jennie Snyder Urman for her first created show, considering she had come from the writers rooms of notable teen dramas such as Gilmore Girls and The CW’s 90210.
At the time of the show’s conception, Urman had returned to television, after having written a couple of feature films, with the mindset of doing a medical procedural, a tried and true staple of television programming for decades. It seems as if she wanted to try something different from what she had done before, but also something that wasn’t too far from the norm. Urman’s intent for the show was to infuse some of her personality into the series that would make it more in the tone of Ally McBeal rather than Grey’s Anatomy. In the early pre-production stage, the show went under the working title First Cut when they cast Mamie Gummer in the role of Emily. Gummer had just broken into television with a few guest spots and a main role in the short lived medical drama Off the Map. She was followed soon thereafter by Justin Hartley, who had just come off of a five year run in the role of Oliver Queen in the Superman prelude series Smallville.
The network gave the series a thirteen episode order with hopes of a full season pickup. When the show premiered, it was aided by a promotion campaign that would allow interested and internet savvy viewers to stream the pilot episode ahead of its air date. They released the pilot to be watched via several social network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, the official The CW website, and even iTunes as a free download.
Unfortunately Emily Owens, M.D. did not tap into the vein of viewers’ curiosity and, needless to say, the results reflected poorly on the show getting that back nine episode order. As the ratings continued to flatline, the network decided that it was time to cut their losses and formally canceled the show a month after its premiere, which was also the same week that crew were wrapping up production on their final episode. Coincidentally enough, fellow medical show Mob Doctor also met with cancellation that week, making The Mindy Project the only survivor of the three new female fronted medical shows that premiered that year.
It seems as though Emily Owens, M.D. was just unable to stand out amongst the crop of television shows that aired that season. Although the critical consensus had been more positive than negative, even more were tepid on the series, which may explain why it went unnoticed. There is no real urgency to the drama of the show, as it appears to play things safe and easy, especially in the pilot which, out of all the episodes, leaves the most lukewarm of impressions. That is not to say that the pilot is a complete slog, because there are plenty of moments of levity that are very interesting, if not entertaining. The opening, for instance, zeroes in on a high school student as a voiceover muses about Emily’s past and how much of a loser she had felt during those years. The lingering camera leads us to believe that we are seeing young Emily in all her unpopular glory, but it turns out that the girl is not her, but a high school student in adult Emily’s present day who is also capable of antagonizing her with verbal abuse, proving Emily to be a loser worthy of ridicule from someone who appears to be the lowest end in the totem pole of her own high school experience.
It’s also not that easy to sympathize with Emily early on, as her problems and situation come off as cliché and predictable. Emily goes into work at the hospital, she finds out her old high school nemesis will be competing with her for the mentor’s attention, she is made a fool of, she makes friends with the outsider, she learns the hospital is a lot like high school, she meets a nice boy, meanwhile she’s crushing on the hot boy, and so on. Mamie Gummer is not too bad as Emily either, it’s just unfortunate that her portrayal as a bumbling, good-natured underdog just isn’t as compelling as she has been in other roles, at least not so much in the preliminary episodes. The season is mainly seen through the eyes of Emily, so it’s important to get behind her as early as possible, but this does not happen until perhaps episode three “Emily and the Outbreak”, where her character becomes more endearing after winning over the young girl who had appeared in the pilot. It’s was one of the show’s better turns to bring back that character, and it is done cleverly by having Emily visit the high school to present a lecture on safe sex.
The main through-line of the series stems from the romance between Emily and her two suitors Will Collins (Justin Hartley) and Micah Barnes (Michael Rady). Hartley gives a good performance as Will, playing off Mamie’s quirkiness well with his brand of charm and smoldering intensity when needed. Their chemistry as friends works extremely well in the pilot, and it only improves as their relationship arc escalates. Micah is clearly the relationship that the show wants the audience to root for, and it is given its due with Michael Rady in the role. Rady is very sympathetic, and his longing for Emily doesn’t appear overbearing or unnatural as it might on other shows of this type. When Micah starts falling for Emily, it makes sense from their interactions, as does the reasons why he hesitates to tell her his feelings for her.
Another person in the cast who makes a notable impression is Aja Naomi King as Cassandra, Emily’s nemesis. This character is perhaps the most interesting person in the show, as she has a lot more dimensions to play. The audience is meant to see Cassandra as Emily sees her, as someone who is just out to get her, but King plays Cassandra’s antagonism more as a defense mechanism. It seems that there may have been an incident in the girls’ past that could explain Cassandra’s disdain for Emily. Mainly she feels challenged by Emily because they both are somewhat alike in that they tend to want the same things and both can’t get it, and Cassandra is just more willing to go after what she wants. The one character that is the most insufferable in the entire cast would have to be Kelly McCreary as Tyra Dupre, who befriends Emily on the first day. She comes off as such a self-absorbed spoiled child that at some point throughout the season, one might expect her to betray Emily and reveal herself as the true villain of the show.
The main cast are all fairly good yet under-served, as Emily is the main focus, so whenever the show diverts into these other cast stories it sort of feels out of place. But apart from the main cast, there are fine guest casts that appear within some very well written standalone stories. Episode three and the episode “Emily and the Perfect Storm” both have very affecting narratives on the patient side and could be considered highlights. Another thing to commend the show for is its top notch production value on the surgery scenes and make up effects of the sick and wounded. There aren’t too many operating scenes throughout, but when they happen they look very good.
Although this sole season of Emily Owens, M.D. doesn’t offer much of a resolution by the end, it has a bit of a turning point moment that would’ve led into more romantic roadblocks and problems in Emily’s love triangle. It still has good writing, with characters that become more likable (even the insufferable ones) as the season progresses. The standalone patient stories are consistently good and serviceable, and as far as medical procedural dramas go, this one isn’t bad at all. The only problem is that it just doesn’t have too much in it that makes it stand out from other shows, and that perhaps is just why it did not return for a second year.
The legacy that is left in the wake of Emily Owens, M.D.‘s demise can be found in Jennie Snyder Urman’s follow up television series Jane the Virgin. Urman wanted to fit her sensibility into a medical drama template, but was limiting her creativity by playing too closely to the format. Her vision of an Ally McBeal-esque tone did not come through in Emily Owens, M.D. as one could imagine she had intended, as Jane the Virgin is much clearly Urman embracing her unique writing style without restraint. This show is still a very good effort by Urman, as it is skillfully written and presented, yet the flaws exist mostly due to being too generic to be noticed, which is mistake that Urman has certainly not repeated.
Jennie Snyder Urman followed up with a TV movie Sober Companion and then the soapy drama Jane the Virgin.
Mamie Gummer had a recurring role on The Good Wife and will be appearing in the second season of WGN drama series Manhattan.
Justin Hartley had a recurring role on Revenge, The Young and the Restless, and most recently Mistresses.
Aja Naomi King made appearances on Blacklist and Deadbeat, had a recurring role on Blackbox, and a main role in How to Get Away with Murder.
Kelly McCreary appeared on Castle, Scandal, and is currently in the main cast of Grey’s Anatomy.
Michael Rady went on to be cast in Intelligence, appear on Stalker, and recur on Jane the Virgin.
Nicar Zadega appeared on The Fosters, Extant, Legends, was a featured cast member on Rake, and is currently a regular on Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.