Emily’s Reasons Why Not

I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t alone.
Emily’s Reasons Why Not (the novel by Carrie Gerlach)

That’s when I felt it, the flutter, flutter, that light ticklish feeling that is the barometer of all chemical attraction. If you don’t have the flutter, flutter, you don’t have nothing.
— Emily (Heather Graham), Emily’s Reasons Why Not

Once the go-to network for blue-collar laughs à la Roseanne and Grace Under Fire, ABC has since fallen under a frothier spell. Style (as amped up on Desperate Housewives and Lost) seems a must for the Alphabet’s new series, while substance is way optional. Certainly that seems the rationale behind the much-promoted, little-watched Emily’s Reasons Why Not. Paired with the returning Jake in Progress, Heather Graham’s singleton sitcom was intended to rev up the network’s Monday block of programming for the lovelorn. Instead, the his-and-hers comedy hour tanked, finishing fourth in the ratings.

Reviewers were not kind. Like Jake before it, Emily debuted to a landslide of Sex and the City comparisons. Graham is too gorgeous, too “calendar girl” to play the Carrie Bradshaw role, critics said, and her West Coast, narration-heavy comedy (based on a chick lit novel of the same name) tries too hard to follow in the Bushnell/Star mold.

Emily didn’t win me over, either, but the “too gorgeous” line of complaint seems a stretch: If I limited my TV viewing to shows starring “normal”-looking actors, I’d need to find a new hobby. The problem with this latest pretender to the Sex throne is neither its film star lead nor its aspirations. Instead, Emily fails because it doesn’t take the mimicry far enough. As the title suggests, this is a Carrie-esque half hour; her crucial fellow ladies are replaced by a best girl- and gay friend (Nadia Dajani and Khary Payton) who exist solely as Graham’s chorus.

The series actually hews closer to the Bridget Jones mold (minus a de-glammed lead): Emily has a publishing job (she edits self-help books) and a proclivity for dating where she works. In the pilot, she’s still smarting from her breakup with erstwhile editee Reese (Mark Valley), whose book was about lies men tell women. Desperate to ferret out her soul mate, she jumps right back in to the dating pool with dark and hunky Stan (Victor Webster), the new guy in marketing. He’s sweet, but why does he take so long to kiss her, and why does he choose cuddling over sex? A marshmallow on a mission, Emily vows to end any relationship if she finds five reasons not to date the guy — “even if the perfect male specimen comes a-knockin'” — and the reasons against Stan mount. First, there’s the cuddling, followed by the next-morning discovery that he wears bronzer (it’s all over the sheets) and subscribes to Martha Stewart’s Living. (Each numbered reason appears on screen as Emily shares it.) So he must be in the closet. Cue “Y.M.C.A.” on the soundtrack and sight gags such as Josh (Payton) lighting a bic to telegraph his verdict: Stan’s fla-a-ming.

Except he’s not. Rather, Stan’s a Mormon virgin, something Emily learns just after she has “outed” him on his company voicemail (which he unwittingly plays for a room full of coworkers, natch). Exit Stan, leaving an Emily epiphany in his wake: “Even though Stan’s not actually gay, maybe he still wasn’t the right guy for me,” she deduces. “Maybe that’s what the reasons why not were trying to tell me.” The lines are lame on paper, but Graham gives them a laughable twist by playing them like Emily’s just solved a really hard algebra problem, and boy, is she relieved!

While it would be fine to make Emily kind of a dope (who doesn’t want to mock the gorgeous girl in the sparkly T-shirts?), the pilot doesn’t go that far. Our narrator’s insights play as progress, rather than slow-wittedness, making her far less embarrassingly endearing than the Brit diarist who preceded her. She’s just a bumbling, dopey beauty making life “v. bad” for the Mormons of the world.

Not for long, however. The second episode of Emily was bumped in favor of a Bachelor rerun, and on 13 January, ABC halted production. “That’s the television business,” executive producer Gavin Polone told Daily Variety. “When the audience stays away, in this super-competitive environment, quick decisions are made.” In this instance, ABC had reasons enough.