The Black Box: “Emily’s Reasons Why Not”

Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong. This week we look at a show that answers the question “what would happen if Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide was weirdly homophobic?”

I started watching “Emily’s Reasons Why Not” already pissed off. You see, I didn’t intend for this to be what I reviewed this week. I was supposed to review the failed 2011 sitcom “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” I got halfway through what was supposed to be the pilot before discovering that what youtube had labeled as the first episode was actually the third. The first episode was not ANYWHERE TO BE FOUND. So, literally incandescent with fury, I switched over to “Emily’s Reasons”. It proved a quality outlet for my rage. “Emily’s Reasons Why Not”, based on the book of the same name by Carrie Gerlach, was aired on ABC on January 9th, 2006. TWO THOUSAND AND SIX, remember that, not ’94, not ’82, but two zero zero six. After one episode aired, the series was canceled. The seven episodes are all available online and were even released as a DVD set for SOME fuckin’ reason. The series, a star vehicle for Heather Graham (who some might remember fondly as Rollergirl from Boogie Nights) was picked up by the network without them ever seeing the first episode, something that will be made EXTREMELY OBVIOUS once I start explaining the pilot.

What they did right: Well, it doesn’t have Hitler in it, so it’s a step up from last week. Also, Heather Graham and supporting actor Khary Payton are both capable of great work. Graham’s name should be immediately recognizable, but Payton should be familiar to most of you as the voice of Cyborg in the Teen Titans animated series as well as many other great cartoon voices. Seriously, if these two had been put in a competently written pilot, this show could have been quite good.

What they did wrong: Ok, here we go. Let’s start with the plot: Emily (Graham) is a self-help book editor who has had a history of dating terrible guys. Now she operates under this policy: if she can list five reasons not to date a guy, she’ll break up with him. In the pilot episode, after ending a bad relationship, she is asked out by an attractive guy from marketing. Unfortunately, a series of clues lead to her and her two friends believing that her new beau, Stan, is gay. Hilarity ensues… except it doesn’t. The whole “Stan must be gay” thing is exactly the problem with this episode. Well, one of the problems, anyway. Emily believes in this theory because Stan uses fake tanning lotion, reads Martha Stewart Living, and practices Brazilian Jujitsu which she describes as “the GAYEST sport ever” (the emphasis is hers, not mine). But wait, there’s more! One of Emily’s two friends is a gay best friend so stereotypical, at first I thought that was the joke. At one point, Emily uses the phrase “coffin of gayness”!  This thing is guilty of 90s sitcom homophobia and it was made in 2006! Not to mention the fact that Stan ISN’T EVEN GAY! Spoiler alert, turns out he’s just a virgin due to his mormonism. When this show aired, it got massive amounts of shit for portraying the intentionally abstinent using outdated gay stereotypes. Shit which it fully deserves. There isn’t too much Mormons and gay people agree on, so when they both hate something, it must be pretty damn bad.

The low point comes when Emily decides to leave Stan a voicemail message on the office voicemail system explaining that she “knows” he’s gay and that she can’t date him anymore. You might recognize this as behavior NO FUCKING HUMAN BEING WOULD EVER PARTAKE IN! What makes this worse is that she works in the same goddamn building as Stan. And yet she doesn’t just walk over to his office and talk to him in person like a non-asshole. As such, she winds up “outing him” to his other co-workers and probably ruining his working life forever. He confronts her offscreen and the episode ends with her completely shrugging off his calling her judgmental and drinking with her friends. In the last lines of the episode, she proclaims that her crazy “he’s totally gay” speculating was for the best because Stan “wasn’t the one for her”. I do not often curse at my computer, but I will not deny that I yelled some pretty hurtful (and accurate) things at Graham’s character after that line was uttered.

Speaking of angry shouting, let’s talk about the characters. Graham’s sociopathic protagonist, I’ve already discussed, but her two friends consist of one stereotypical gay guy, and one woman who is literally too boring to mention. Another character, Reece, is Emily’s ex-boyfriend who cheated on her and wrote a self help book she’s editing. (Sidenote: “self-help book editor” is way too specific of a job for anyone to actually have. It’s like the job of the female lead of any rom-com) Reece exists for romantic conflict’s sake and nothing more. And then we get to Emily’s former assistant, who I will call villain lady because I refuse to give a shit what her name was. This woman is the worst actress I have ever seen. I can’t even call it acting, more like lying with a script. I have literally seen better acting in elementary school plays. She is so bad I couldn’t physically stop myself from shouting “YOU ARE TERRIBLE” at the screen whenever she started talking. I know it sounds like I’m picking on her, but it really is just that god-fucking-awful. If you don’t believe me, you can check it out yourself, provided you have the same lack of a life I do.

The central problem with this show is in its concept. The pilot has Emily’s reasons pop up onscreen for comedic effect, so I want to compare it to two other pieces of media that did the same thing, Nickelodeon sitcom “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and 2009 comedy “Zombieland”. Both had their own guidebooks. In “Ned’s Declassified”, it was the titular guide, while in “Zombieland” it was Columbus’s list of rules for surviving in the zombie apocalypse. The reason both of these pieces of media worked is that the rulebooks had clear, character defining purposes. Ned’s guide demonstrated his inherent desire to help others, while Columbus’s rules were his own charming way of keeping himself alive. All Emily’s reasons show is that she is a judgmental psycho. The only times her reasons pop up onscreen are whenever her date does something “bad”. This includes “wear makeup”, “Brazilian jujitsu”, and “Reads Martha Stewart”. It serves no purpose other than to make her seem petty and crazy. “Petty and crazy” is actually a pretty great description of the entire show, now that I think about it.

I have to say, my favorite thing about this show is the following: even though ABC canned the show after only one episode, because they had already paid for advertising ahead of time, ads on TV, in magazines, and on buses continued to run well after the series was canceled. It was like ABC took a crap on the rug and then proceeded to rub ITS OWN nose in it. Well, that’s all for this time, next week, we review a pilot I’m actually looking forward to! I really hope it’s not terrible!

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