The CW’s best new shows of the fall season are dramas Arrow and Emily Owens, M.D., which makes for a nice contrast demonstrating the six-year-old network’s strengths and weaknesses. Arrow is the Smallville-ification of DC Comics superhero Green Arrow, starring Stephen Amell as billionaire playboy Oliver Queen. The Emerald Archer, as we comic-book nerds used to call him, is presented here as a hooded bow-and-arrow expert with superb musculature who … well, what he does is almost beside the point. The entire purpose of Arrow is to showcase Amell’s good looks and his muscle-flexing fighting skills, which include martial arts as well as quiver grabbin’. Of course Arrow fights crime, of course he has problems with his love life and his family, and of course he has a sister nicknamed Speedy who’s into drugs. Wait…what? In the original comics, Speedy is Green Arrow’s male sidekick; here, the role is played by The O.C.‘s Willa Holland as a brat. Your interest in Arrow depends on how much you miss the troubled-in-love, conflicted-by-family heroics of Smallville — it mirrors that series’ setup.
Then there’s Emily Owens, M.D., with Mamie Gummer as a medical intern at a Denver hospital overrun with high-school-level melodrama. Emily — smart but ditzy, compassionate but silly — spends as much time worrying about why her crush on Dr. Will Collins isn’t reciprocated as she does tending to her failing-heart, cancer-suffering patients. (Will is played by Justin Hartley — the Green Arrow of Smallville. Small world!) Gummer, so good as a clever lawyer on The Good Wife, deserves better than this role as a grown-up, moony teenage girl, even as she makes Emily far more interesting than her own insipid voice-over narration would suggest.
Delayed adolescence is the overriding growth problem at The CW, a network with a perpetual identity crisis: On Mondays it’s the Brat Channel (90210, Gossip Girl); on Tuesdays it morphs into the Nice-Gal Channel (Hart of Dixie, Emily Owens); then it becomes Superhunk Central on Wednesdays (Arrow, Supernatural). Nearly every show features solid talent in front of or behind the cameras — Arrow exec producer Greg Berlanti is one of TV’s best young minds, for example. But the programming is so assiduously reduced to identity crises and struggles to grow up that the network itself can’t grow an audience or broaden its base. Its best shows — like The Vampire Diaries and now Arrow — can be substantial pleasure centers for both young and adult audiences.
The CW might finally compete with the bigger networks if it developed characters over the age of 30 — fully formed, complex creations who could (gasp!) be the central characters of its programming. As it is, I’d settle for an Emily Owens who acts more like a doctor and less like a 14-year-old. B+