By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006
Cute as a kitty, bubblier than Perrier and teasingly eager to please, Heather Graham brightens every corner, nook and cranny of "Emily's Reasons Why Not," a buoyant box of froth to be unwrapped tonight on ABC. The sitcom, originally slated to premiere last fall, stars Graham as Emily Sanders, a publishing whiz with a knack for disaster when it comes to intimate relationships.
Graham, who got herself noticed in "Boogie Nights," a rather confused film about the porn industry, may be two tads too small for the big screen but seems just right for the smaller one, eliciting amused concern for Emily's mistakes and misfortunes in an area where few people probably consider themselves soaring successes. Rejection, after all, is always just around the next bend in a very bendy road.
Except for its star, the show's premiere only has hints of real promise. For one thing, the producers have Graham narrate the saga, and the narration seems to fill every nook and cranny, too. Describing a self-destructive voice mail she left for a boyfriend, Sanders says, "I started talking and I just couldn't stop," and so it is with that nagging, nudging voiceover: yaketa yaketa yaketa yak.
Scenes aren't played out as a linear narrative but instead are staged as flashbacks that Sanders recalls for friends, giving her the excuse to do more narrating and enabling the writers to avoid having to construct actual scenes. Instead they'll have Sanders recall, for example, a date with a boyfriend and then illustrate her blabby recollection with snippets of action.
The whole show is one long soliloquy, and that would be tiresome even if a dozen other sitcoms hadn't already used the technique. There's another achingly derivative little detail: It takes only about two minutes for the heroine's gay platonic boyfriend to make an appearance, and the series premiere is so overloaded with gay gags and references it comes off as a cut-rate version of "Will & Grace" without a real Will.
Josh (Khary Payton), the gay sidekick, is a shrieking cliche at this point in television and cultural history, and so for that matter is Emily's commiserating gal-pal Reilly, though she's played with salty sass by Nadia Dajani. The show seems too haunted by ghosts of sitcoms past, characters who trigger a migraine-size case of deja vu.
On the other hand, who can completely dismiss a series in which an actress named Smith Cho plays a character named Glitter Cho? Cho is Emily's archenemy at the office, dropping by frequently to slather sarcasm all over poor little Emily's hopes and dreams and simple plans for a sexy evening.
As the pilot begins, Emily learns a depressing truth about her current boyfriend Reese (Mark Valley), author of a book apparently called "Hook, Lie and Sink Her" (the cover is only glimpsed), a dumb guy's dating guide. Emily discovers that Reese has two cell phones and one contains photographs of more than a dozen women he's "dating" at the same time. As she goes through the pictures, Emily grumps, "Who are these tramps? Oh -- that one's me!"
When Emily learns a painful lesson, she chalks it up as another "reason why not," and in this case, another opportunity presents itself almost immediately, a too-good-to-be-true swarthy hunk. "Stan from Marketing," played by Victor Webster (who looks as though there must be a Web site devoted to him somewhere), pokes his head into her office and invites Emily to lunch.
He's handsome, charming, and he only has (dark brown) eyes for her. Their second date is a funsy trip to an amusement park, apparently the Santa Monica pier, and includes a spry montage of the pair posing for photos in one of those picture-taking booths. All's going well until he sees her home; Graham is poignantly funny waiting for the good-night kiss that never comes, eyes closed and lips in full expectant pucker.
Emily's friends, especially the gay guy, loudly voice their suspicions that Stan from Marketing is gay as well, and this unfortunately means another round of gay jokes (they find a copy of Martha Stewart Living in his gym bag -- imagine!). The word "gay" is purposely uttered to death, with Reilly opining, "I'm struck by how gay this guy's display of gayness is."
That's after they witness Stan showing off at Brazilian jujitsu, described by one skeptic as "the gayest sport there is" (that person apparently never saw Turkish wrestling in the movie "Topkapi"). Stan doesn't help matters any when, after quickly finishing off an opponent, he smiles and says, "I love it when they submit."
The half-hour zooms by quickly, and some of the dialogue is snappy and crackly in the best adult sitcom tradition. When the plaintive Reese reappears and tries to rekindle the flame, he tells Emily, "I'm sorry I was such a jerk," and she responds, " ' Was?' Why are you using the past tense?" Graham is gorgeous when she's angry, also gorgeous when she's not. She's gorgeous when she's funny, too, and that's a pretty neat trick.
Two plot points in the premiere seem illogical: Stan plays his private voice mail for an office full of buddies and, after he's slipped out of Emily's grasp, she appears utterly unfazed, even though Stan was clearly a prize catch (overlooking, that is, his liberal use of bronzer). Emily stops being sympathetic when she just seems shallow.
Despite the limitations, and there are a bundle, "Emily's Reasons Why Not" logs a happy high on the delightful meter -- fresh and frisky much of the time. And Heather Graham, obviously and to the nth degree, is "Emily's" principal reason why.
Emily's Reasons Why Not (30 minutes) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 7.