REVIEW: ‘Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.,’ Episode 1 – “Aloha – The Hello One”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Doogie Kamealoha MD Episode 1 - But Why Tho

Doogie Kamealoha MD is a Disney+ Original series starring Peyton Elizabeth Lee as teenage doctor prodigy Lahela, balancing her life as a medical professional and a 16-year-old. Inspired by Doogie Howser, the new show takes place in Hawaii and promises to dive into the life, family, and love of its titular character.

I’m of two impossibly divergent minds on the Doogie Kamealoha MD pilot episode. On the one hand, it’s a tad corny at times, has some run-ins with bad tropes, and makes way too many jokes about race for a show with embarrassingly little native Hawaain representation. But at the same time, it has some hysterical moments, breaks as many bad tropes as it sustains, and had me weeping for the entirety of its final 7 minutes.

It’s clear that Lee is really, really excited to be in her most publicized and “mature” role yet, because she is acting really, really hard. And in some of the earlier scenes, a bit too hard. The mediocre script and annoying constant camera angle changes don’t help, but you can see how hard she’s trying on her lines and face compared to the ease with which some of the adults she interacts with play their parts. Her parents, played by Kathleen Rose Perkins and Jason Scott Lee, as well as Will (Barry Bostwick), a patient of Lahela’s, are just so much more natural in their roles. Of course, none of the other teens or kids were nearly as smooth, some of them even more awkward than Lee.

Then there’s the standard-issue that every Dinsey+ Original show begins with: falling into tropes that are just no longer befitting good television. Lahela’s big personal life conflict in this pilot is that she has a date with a “hotty,” which, by the way, she literally calls him to her dad, which was very weird.” But, her mom won’t let her stay out past 11. Also, her mom is the boss at the hospital, by the way—more on that in a moment. Love interests among teenagers aren’t inherently a problem, of course, but starting off on this foot feels like a step into standard heteronormative YA territory rife with all of its frustrating miscommunications, misunderstandings, and other problems that TV likes to chalk up to “teenage problems” but if we perhaps portrayed different types of relationship in popular media, maybe these problems would be less common in real life.

Here’s the thing, though: Kai (Matthew Sato) was actually really nice and really understanding when Lahela had to deal with doctor things. And even more so when she needed a shoulder in its aftermath. It’s frustrating the tropes that her mom, Dr. Hannon, falls into as a white girl boss in charge of a clearly mostly not-white staff, the exaggerated personality the gay-coded doctor has, or the ditzy personality the only top-billed native Hawaain actor’s character has. But Lahela’s dad, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of every dad I’ve ever seen on TV. He’s the nicest, most supportive, and only makes a few annoying jokes to Kai compared to the kindnesses he shows towards him. It’s hard dunking on this show that so much deserves in some categories when it does so well in so many others.

Where the show needs absolute and unapologetic dunking, though, is its essential appropriation of Hawaii. This show has no reason to take place. It could be in California somewhere and not only change little about the show’s admittedly great concept and overall execution while avoiding controversy and grievance around its lack of casting of Hawaiian natives and uncomfortable representation of Hawaiian culture.

As much as there is a reality that Hawaii is a colonial project and its land is inhabited by people of all races, and that is great to portray, TV isn’t made in a vacuum. It’s made by people who make decisions over casting, scripts, and every single other choice. So for as much as its cast would be great in literally any other place in the world, it’s impossible to separate the clear intention to portray its Asian characters as “real” Hawaiians versus the white and Black characters who are clearly “not of here.” It’s made even worse by how many jokes the show makes about race. Isolated, they’re not so terrible. But constant jokes from Ronny Chieng about Dr. Hannon not being an Asian mom, old white ladies mispronouncing Hawaiian words, or making fun of non-residents for misusing a shaka just ring uncomfortably in the greater context of the show. If later episodes want to address colonialism and racism, I’m all for it, but until then, this part of the show weighs very heavily on it, despite the good it also contains.

And to be sure, there’s plenty of good. The final portion of the episode gave me so much joy and sorrow all at once in a way I don’t know if a pilot for any TV ever has. It sets the tone very clearly as a good time, but interested in tackling tough topics. Just as long as it truly does balance the right, Lahela has to be a teen and have a life against her responsibilities as a doctor.

Doogie Kamealoha MD is a complicated start to a complicated series. It has some very strong aspects, yet, is overshadowed by some serious issues. And a few small ones as well. I’m willing to give the show a chance to make up for its sins, but it will take a lot to overcome its misgivings.

Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., airs new episodes on Wednesdays exclusively on Disney+.

Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. Episode 1 - "Aloha - The Hello One"
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Doogie Kamealoha MD is a complicated start to a complicated series. It has some very strong aspects, yet, is overshadowed by some serious issues. And a few small ones as well. I’m willing to give the show a chance to make up for its sins, but it will take a lot to overcome its misgivings.