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May 13, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | May 13, 2006 |

This review could’ve written itself. I could’ve titled it “The TV Whore’s Reasons Why Not” and just given you a quick runoff of five reasons to skip ABC’s new little Heather Graham show. But that would be cheap and easy. And I may be many things, but I’m not cheap and easy. [Publisher’s note: Take it from us, the TV Whore most certainly is cheap and easy.]

But the real reason I didn’t go that route is because I actually want to talk about “Emily’s Reasons Why Not.” The thing is, when a show is an abysmal dud from start to finish, there’s nothing of substance to talk about. A show like “Four Kings” is fully deserving of nothing but Pajiba scathe because its creators didn’t try, so why the hell should we? And although I laughed just as many times during “Emily’s Reasons” as I did during “Four Kings” (that would be zero, for those of you keeping count), it’s obvious that the show was at least trying, which I can respect. It may have missed the mark, but hey, I missed the bowl the first time I pissed standing up.

The first problem with the show is its star, Heather Graham. First of all, let’s just be honest here — Boogie Nights and parts of Drugstore Cowboy aside — Ms. Graham isn’t a particularly talented actress. I’ve often compared watching her to watching a cardboard box. A hot cardboard box, sure, but they both appear to have about the same amount of charisma and personality. And the cardboard box may be a little smarter. To be fair, she was actually quite entertaining on her “Scrubs” stint and, based on that, I can understand why they gave her a show. And in the right type of show, I think she could actually work out just fine. But here she’s nothing more than passable. In fact, the closest I came to a laugh was a line that had been shown in the commercials (in response to an ex-beau’s apology because he “was such a jerk,” Emily retorts: “Was? Why are you using the past tense?”), a line that still doesn’t work because Heather’s timing was totally off on the read.

More problematic than her on-screen readings, however, is the narration. When narrated voice-overs work, like on “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Arrested Development,” they are fantastic (in fact, I’d argue that 70 percent of the humor in “Chris” comes strictly from its narration). In both of these shows, the voice-overs work for two reasons — strong writing and equally strong delivery. But in “Emily’s Reasons,” the writing is anything but strong, and I’m highly skeptical about whether Ms. Graham could provide solid and funny delivery of even the funniest narration. There may be potential here, but at the moment, I remain dubious.

Now the bigger problem with the show has nothing to do with Heather Graham. Rather, it’s the whole underlying concept of the show. You see, Graham’s Emily Sanders edits self-help-type books and realizes that her romantic life needs some self-help of its own. So she decides to listen to her inner-self’s reasons for not dating someone. “Five reasons why not to date a guy and he’s history.” Now I’m not going to try to argue that a sitcom based on a gimmick can’t work, but it’s tough to successfully pull off. Like many folks, I love “My Name is Earl,” and that’s certainly a gimmick-based show. But its gimmick — Earl’s making up for past mistakes — is minimally constraining and actually allows for as diverse a plot in any given episode as the writers can think of. “Emily’s” gimmick, on the other hand, is very restraining — every episode has to be about some guy and her slow discovery, over the course of 22 minutes, of the reasons why he’s not The Guy.

For example, over the course of the pilot, Emily puts together her five reasons to stop dating Stan from Marketing (these reasons are scribbled on the screen as she learns them, and the comic-book like capitalizations are theirs, not mine):

1. When they sleep together for the first time, he merely cuddles with her, so when he says he just wants to sleep with you “he means to SLEEP with you.”

2. When he gets out of bed the next morning, he leaves some staining behind from his “fake and bake” bronzer, so that’s no good because “he wears MAKE-UP.”

3. In his gym bag is a subscription copy of Martha Stewart Living. “Martha. Stewart. SUBSCRIPTION.”

4. He does Brazilian Jujitsu, which involves men rolling around together. “Brazilian Jujitsu. It’s like the GAYEST sport there is.”

5. While watching the Brazilian Jujitsu spar, Emily’s gay friend’s gaydar goes off. “If your gay friend thinks he’s gay … he MUST be gay.”

And so that’s all she wrote for Stan from Marketing. There’s a “twist” when she later finds out he’s just a Mormon virgin, but I’ll spare you the details. I hated just typing these reasons out, and can’t imagine watching them played out each week. Ultimately, the show would’ve been much better off if it had to go the gimmick route, keeping the “reasons” angle but not tying them to her love life. And if it survives long enough, and insists on keeping the gimmick, don’t be surprised to see the show go that way.

The other main reason that “Earl” works, aside from having a more flexible gimmick, and the reason that most of the best sitcoms work, is because of strong characters. From both versions of “The Office,” to “Seinfeld,” to “Friends” (in its short-lived prime), to “Cheers,” and all the way back to “The Honeymooners” — it’s always been about the characters. With “Emily’s Reasons,” the characters leave much to be desired. Emily’s character, a woman who is cute but awkward and smart but na├»ve, is right out of Chick Lit 101. There doesn’t appear to be any depth or dynamic to the character whatsoever. Worse yet is her stereotypical gay black friend (Khary Payton), who only appears to be in the show for the occasional flamboyant one-liner. Emily’s other friend, Reilly (Nadia Dajani) … well, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about her as they didn’t really present any information about her. The actress appears to have at least some potential, so if they can flesh out this character, there may be something here. And then there’s Glitter Cho. Fantastic name. But that’s about it. From the same Chick Lit 101 class that teaches us about Emily, we learn that every working woman needs a bitchy work-place enemy, and that’s Glitter Cho. Terribly acted (too schmaltzy and kitschy) and terribly characterized (“I know something you don’t know. Neener neener neener.”). Sitcom characters always need enemies for antagonistic humor, but Glitter doesn’t seem likely to get the job done.

Anyway, the point of all my rambling is this — the show’s creators seem well intentioned and are trying to put out good work. They just need to try harder. If ABC sticks with this show for a while, maybe they can right the ship. I don’t think it could become a great show, but it might become decent, and could be worth checking-in on if there’s a second season. But in the meantime, I remain as optimistic as Emily that “the reasons why not will lead me to what I’m looking for.” Namely, my “Arrested Development” DVD’s.

Update (Jan. 17, 2005): ABC has halted production on the show, so seeya’ on the flip side Heather.

Seth Frelich is a television columnist for Pajiba. He lives in Washignton, D.C. and couldn’t be happier that summer “intern season” is finally here.

"Emily's Reasons Why Not" / The TV Whore

May 13, 2006

TV | May 13, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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