Hospital drama can often be so stern and serious that it's refreshing when it's approached with a lighter tone. Following in the footsteps of former comedy Scrubs, Emily Owens, M.D. focuses on a young doctor struggling with her self-confidence as she begins her surgical residency.
Emily Owens (Mamie Gummer) has always been an awkward, self-conscious nerd. Even now, after doing well at medical school and earning a a spot at a top hospital under a well-regarded doctor, she's still prone to a nattering inner monologue filled with jittery second-guessing. This isn't helped by her colleagues, including med-school buddy and secret crush Will (Justin Hartley), insisting that hospitals are just like high school, a place where Emily wasn't exactly a star. To drive that metaphor home, Cassandra (Aja Naomi King), Emily's high school nemesis, just happens to be a fellow resident and she's brought her old, nefarious bullying tactics with her. Can Emily succeed in an environment that seems designed to bring out the worst in her?
The whole hospitals-are-like-high-school angle isn't a new one. Zach Braff's Scrubs character relayed that gem in the comedy's 2001 pilot episode. While this is a concept that the show pushes hard in its early episodes, including pulling out the tired Mean Girls-like breakdown of how each group at the hospital relates to a well-known high school clique, the series works a lot better when the metaphor is more subtly employed. Emily's insecure voiceover blather about Will and Cassandra can drive the character into a dangerously annoying zone, distracting from the stronger point that, in some ways, we never really grow out of our childhood anxieties. Fortunately, the endearing Mamie Gummer saves Emily from being an unrelatable and self-involved whiner. The show is at it's best when Emily is in full-on doctor mode. The confidence, competence and sensitivity she exhibits when dealing with her patients makes it obvious that there's a lot more to this girl than the inner monologue implies. When she focuses on healing, the voiceover stops and the child-like Emily recedes, allowing us to get a look at Dr. Owens, a truly engaging and interesting young woman who anyone would be glad to have as their physician.
While the concept and characters are recycled from countless medical shows that have preceded it, Emily Owens, M.D. is elevated greatly by the talent and charisma of its star, who goes a long way to make up for the show's weak points.
Emily Owens, M.D. airs Tuesdays at 8pm on the CW.