I can’t honestly say I was expecting to be back reviewing episode two of Doogie Kamealoha, M.D., the Disney+ original series starring Peyton Elizabeth Lee as teenage doctor prodigy Lahela, balancing her life as a medical professional and a 16-year-old. The first episode was quite divisive, demonstrating poor judgment in casting a non-Hawaiian actor to play a main character meant to clearly come across as native Hawaiians. While the show never asserts that the characters are Indigenous Hawaiians per se, it leans heavily on traditional elements, including the family’s name Kameāloha. However, Lehela’s dad, and perhaps my favorite character, is played by Jason Scott Lee, is of Hawaiian descent as well as his brother Kai (Matthew Sato). Race, belonging, and this show are complicated. And while I believe it is trying its best, and certainly possesses strong AAPI representation generally, it’s important to remain critical where things are still imperfect and to recognize that there is not a monolithic pan-Asian, pan-Pacific Islander, or even pan-Hawaiian experience.
Doogie Kamealoha M.D.’s pilot delivered a mostly stronger story and set of characters. In Doogie Kamealoha MD Episode 2 “Love is a Mystery” Lehela is trying to figure out whether Walter (Alex Aiono), who she kissed at the end of the previous episode, actually likes her or not.
In Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.,’s sophomore episode, the barrage of race-based jokes is set aside, thankfully. This time, we simply have to endure the less harmful but instead rather annoying trope: the dumb best friend. Emma Meisel plays Lahela’s (Lee) best friend Steph in classic children’s television fashion: she’s not particularly bright, alludes to innocuous but backward home life, and shows pretty much no interest in Lahela’s professional life because it’s all over her head and science is silly, basically. Not every friend has to share every interest with you. But the way that All those attributes combine in Steph is quite frustrating, on top of her constant and creepy doting over Lehela’s brother Kai are just unfair. Meisel plays it well, and it certainly isn’t her fault this is the box she’s being put in, but come on. It’s 2021, you can have a TV episode with a teenage love plot that doesn’t have to reduce the secondary character like this.
As for the teenage love plot itself, I’m always torn on children’s television and its assistance on teaching kids lessons by showing them why the wrong thing is bad before demonstrating how the right thing is right. Basing an episode’s plot around how a teenage genius can crack a rare medical case but can’t crack a boy’s heart is totally fine, even in its tropeyness. Tropes are good because they help us set expectations and either be satisfied by their fulfillment or subversion. Some tropes, like the dumb blond friend, need to die. In the case of the teen who will do everything but just ask somebody directly how they feel, it’s a little less clear.
As an educator, I try to make it my pedagogy to demonstrate good behaviors and why they’re good rather than rely on the common practice of proving a point by showing the consequences of the wrong choices. I don’t really believe that negative reinforcement is nearly as powerful as positive. But, sometimes you need to understand the alternative is truly worse because if you only ever show good outcomes, you might start to become complacent about them, seek some greater reward, and assume risky behavior to attempt and achieve it.
I think that’s why children’s TV rely so heavily on the classic dance around direct communication, even though it would be so much better to simply teach kids to communicate their feelings in the first place. I don’t dislike the way this episode runs its non-communicative plot. I just wish that there was a world where this type of plot was a fun treat for everyone to look at and go “wow, that’s so silly, they should have just talked” rather than it being the norm that we just expect teenagers not to communicate well. If the adults creating these shows set their expectations for teens this low, how can we expect them to grow into healthier communication?
Aside from my usual diatribe on pedagogy, the show remains generally innocuous. Without the emotional gut-punch that the pilot delivered, Doogie Kamealoha MD Episode 2 felt less satisfying overall than the pilot. The setting is beautiful, albeit very problematic, the side characters are not hilarious but certainly contain humor, and I am particularly intrigued by the relationship between Lehela’s parents (played by Kathleen Rose Perkins and Jason Scott Lee), and how they seem to really well model a healthy relationship. Especially in this episode where they have pretty strong communication from the beginning and only continue to demonstrate it throughout, rather than mirroring beat for beat Lehela’s struggle.
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Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. Episode 2 - "Love is a Mystery"
- Rating - 6.5/106.5/10
Aside from my usual diatribe on pedagogy, the show remains generally innocuous.