It can be hard to watch when bad TV shows happen to good people. But the talented Mamie Gummer just can’t catch a break in the quality department. Her most recent prominent role came as a doctor in ABC’s 2011 drama “Off the Map,” canceled halfway through its first season. She’s back playing a doctor in The CW’s “Emily Owens, M.D.,” a “Grey’s Anatomy” Light — and who would have thought that was possible — that doesn’t bring anything new or interesting to the standard procedural. Gummer (Meryl Streep’s daughter) has charisma to spare, but fans will be tested to continue with the series just to watch her.
The premise is just like “Grey’s”: A new batch of surgical interns arrives at Denver Memorial Hospital, its members eager to begin their journey toward becoming doctors who actually get to operate and not be constantly berated by attendees and residents. Owens, sweet and awkward, hopes that this new chapter will help her break free of her nerdy past (she was nicknamed “Pits” in high school for her tendency to overly sweat during debate tournaments) and perhaps even get her crush, med school friend and fellow intern Will Collins (Justin Hartley), to notice her. But oh, hospitals are just giant high schools, as others quickly point out, and to really drive the point home, Emily’s actual high school nemesis Cassandra Kopelson (Aja Naomi King) also is a surgical intern. She’s the one who coined “Pits,” which she naturally revives.
Emily’s inner monologue narrates the show, and Gummer is funny and endearing as a woman still coming into her own. Too bad much of the plot is mired down with clichés, including numerous subplots of different patients and their problems, which the interns feel free to self-righteously meddle in and try to fix. (When one of Emily’s patients crashes, Emily calls out for a doctor. A nurse replies, “You are a doctor!”) The attendant, Dr. Gina Bandari (Necar Zadegan), is brilliant and bitchy; the resident, Dr. Micah Barnes (Michael Rady, another wasted talent whom I loved on ABC Family’s “Greek”), is kind and destined to fall for Emily. Intern Tyra Dupre (Kelly McCreary) is the rebel lesbian daughter of the chief resident, who doesn’t know his daughter is gay and who is seen by Emily making out with the same nurse that Tyra had her eye on earlier in the episode. As Emily works on not letting the taunting Cassandra get the best of her emotions, she takes advice from a tween patient and tells Will her feelings. Will, blond and bland, isn’t interested (those smiles and hugs he gave were platonic!), but Emily shouldn’t despair. Micah shows up to make her rethink her “worst day ever” woes by pointing out all the “real” problems the hospital’s patients are enduring. Chin up, sweetie. Life isn’t so bad, but in this high school-like hell you’ve found yourself in, it certainly isn’t great.
Slightly more interesting, though not much, is The CW’s “Beauty and the Beast,” a revamping of the 1987 TV take on the fairy tale. Instead of Ron Pearlman in a lionish mask, however, we have Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan), a handsome and supposed-to-be-dead doctor-turned-soldier with a scar on one side of his face. He can turn beastly, all right, though mostly his transformations happen in the shadows, his face taking on the same shape as Meatloaf’s a la his “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” music video. This is the biggest shift from the story (which itself has evolved throughout the centuries), and it’s the biggest missed opportunity for the series. Vincent isn’t always a beast, or at least he doesn’t always look like one. Where’s the drama in that?
His Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk) is equally young and beautiful, and we meet her in 2003 in New York state, tending bar in between studying for the LSAT’s (her waitress friends refers to her as an Ivy League grad). When her car won’t start one night after she closes, her mom comes to the rescue to provide a jump. Two men show up, however, and without fanfare shoot the mother and chase Catherine into the woods. She is saved by a “beast” (the beast), and she refuses to believe otherwise, even in her present-day life as a detective in New York City. No, the trauma of seeing her mother murdered didn’t deter her from having a seemingly well-adjusted life, even as she tends to date jerks, overlooks the more suitable guys in her midst such as attractive medical examiner Evan Marks (Max Brown) and is consumed by her job. She and her partner Tess Vargas (Nina Lisandrello) investigate a murder in typical procedural fashion, but a fingerprint found on the body leads Catherine to searching for Vincent, who is listed as having died in Afghanistan in 2002. (He tried to save the victim; long story.) Vincent is a military experiment gone awry, one of several who were injected with a chemical that caused each to turn into monsters when enraged, like The Hulk. Their senses sharpened and their features transformed somewhat, and although the military tried to shut it down by killing all the test patients, Vincent survived. He has been hiding out with his old friend, J.T. Forbes (Austin Basis), for a decade.
It’s all tied together somehow — her mother’s murder, Vincent’s state, the secretive agency that is behind it all — and the pilot sets up the mystery fairly well. The problem is that Catherine is nice, and so is Vincent. (The actors do a well-enough job.) He has been following her for years, ever since he saved her life, brooding from a distance. Although he tries to warn her away from him, he already looks at her longingly and is out to protect her. Instead of Catherine being scared of Vincent, or repulsed, or whatever, she is mostly intrigued. She knows he is the one who saved her that night in the woods — his having a newspaper clipping of the event sitting out at the space he shares with J.T. is a clue — and that warms her to him. She even reaches up and touches his face at one point, when she barely knows him. Sure, she has to be aware of his rages, but as he looks and acts normally most of the time, there isn’t much to be afraid of.
Typically, the Belles of the tale have to overcome obstacles to learn to love the Beast. Here, Catherine, already open-hearted, is ready to accept him right off the bat. He no doubt will be around to help her on cases, as well as help solve her mother’s murder and continue to look for the antidote for his affliction. (His cross-species DNA was found at the aforementioned crime scene and matches DNA found at other crimes, including Catherine’s mother’s. It’s … a long story.) But this narrative softens the tale. Vincent needs to be more dangerous; Catherine needs to be less easily swayed; and the stakes, overall, need to be higher.
“Emily Owens, M.D.,” airs at 9/8C Tuesdays on The CW. “Beauty and the Beast” airs 9/8C Thursdays on The CW.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio.
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