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'Why Not': The question is, why?

Heather Graham is the force behind ABC's derivative sitcom that can't get beyond 'Sex and the City.'

January 09, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

The most noteworthy thing about Heather Graham in "Emily's Reasons Why Not," of course, is that Heather Graham is in "Emily's Reasons Why Not."

An extra-foam latte of a show, "Emily's" is another too-on-the-nose attempt to fabricate the water-cooler feel of "Sex and the City," this time using the not-insignificant presence of Graham.

Her radiance is in full force, even if it also feels like the elephant in the room. Graham, heretofore used as sexual Muse -- most notably as the terrifyingly hot porn star Rollergirl in "Boogie Nights" -- is here playing a plucky everygirl on the road to empowerment through a series of disastrous, PG-rated relationships.

It's a jarring transition in her oeuvre, and it makes "Emily's Reasons Why Not," executive produced by Emily Kapnek and based on the novel by Carrie Gerlach, not only disappointing but potentially disconcerting. The notion of Graham as a TV star is an enticing one, but she's starring in a show that's not big enough for her, that only means to translate her into a sweet, datable editor of self-help books living in Los Angeles.

The comedy of "Sex and the City," it was said, was grounded in a gay male sensibility, but "Emily's" is vanilla by comparison. Meanwhile, Graham is simply too formidable a heterosexual man's fantasy figure (Google her and you come up with nearly 5 million hits) to play in the by-now-exhausted, female-centric single-in-the-city genre.

Does anyone still care about the relationship woes of single people in urban settings with casually referred-to jobs in the creative sector? ABC is pairing "Emily's Reasons Why Not" with the return of "Jake in Progress," another in the same genre, starring John Stamos.

It makes for his-and-hers promos, anyway, a last-ditch attempt to see how much air is left in the balloon. Certainly all the "Sex and the City" bells and whistles are in evidence in "Emily's Reasons Why Not" -- the voice-over epiphanies, the friends-as-Greek-chorus (Khary Payton and Nadia Dajani), the glib cultural shorthand.

ABC sent out the pilot months ago, having held the series off the fall schedule before changing the writing staff. The opening installment has Emily shaking off the remnants of her womanizing current beau (never mind that none of the women she finds on his cellphone approach Graham's allure) and rebounding into the arms of Stan from marketing, a new hunk at work, Emily's love life endless fodder for workplace rival Glitter Cho (Smith Cho).

Quickly, the show suggests it's trafficking in a ripe cultural talker: Does Stan's subscription to Martha Stewart Living make him gay? How about the fact that he shows more interest in cuddling than kissing, or works out by rolling around on the floor with other men in his Brazilian jujitsu class?

They're the red flags, the "reasons why not" of the title, new ones coming every week.

"My initial instincts about men may not be as sharp as my initial instincts about books," Emily concludes by the end, "but I guess that's what makes my life interesting.... As much as I want to find my other half, I need to consider the possibility that maybe I'm already whole. But that's the thing about possibilities, they're infinite."

A part of me wants to be insulted by this, as a woman, she needs to consider that she's already whole?

The other part of me is still trying to follow the logic of that little speech. Is she saying that she's possibly already whole, but there are an infinite number of alternatives to her already being whole?

It's a puzzler, like the very name of the series, which didn't trip easily off the tongue of ABC Sports' Keith Jackson, reading promos during the USC-Texas game (you could feel the narrowcasting as it happened). In "Emily's Reasons Why Not," the infinite possibilities don't go much beyond finding some new face to superimpose onto a template. Heather Graham, a genre turns its bleary eyes to you.


'Emily's Reasons Why Not'

When: ABC

When: 9 p.m.

Ratings: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

Heather Graham...Emily

Nadia Dajani...Reilly

Khary Payton...Josh

Smith Cho...Glitter

Executive producers Gavin Polone, Vivian Cannon, Robin Schiff. Writer and executive producer Emily Kapnek.

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