The legacy of Steven Bocho and David E. Kelley’s Doogie Howser M.D. lies mostly in its name—which became synonymous with young prodigies (for a certain generation, at least)—and the resulting fame of series lead Neil Patrick Harris. It’s easy to forget how deeply silly, even strange, ABC’s ostensible medical drama could be (the show’s 22-minute average runtime further pushed it into the realm of a comedy). In the first two episodes alone, Doogie (Harris) is propositioned by multiple older women. By the end of the first season, he’d given his girlfriend an emergency pelvic exam (not a euphemism), operated on a dog in his hospital’s ER, and become an emancipated minor (beating The Simpsons to the punch). These storylines are relatively tame compared to Bochco’s and Kelley’s other work, but the fact that they all centered on someone who was 16 at the start of the series surely amplifies their weirdness.
But enough time and send-ups of Harris’ breakout role have probably passed to obscure most knowledge of the show beyond its central premise of “well-meaning wunderkind tries to keep their head above water.” That’s the hook of Kourtney Kang’s reboot, Doogie Kameāloha M.D., which centers on 16-year-old prodigy Lahela “Doogie” Kameāloha (Andi Mack’s Peyton Elizabeth Lee), who goes on rounds and dates in Hawaii. It’s one of the stronger reimaginings to come from Disney+’s mining of nostalgia, which has so far yielded earnest sequel series like The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers and lackluster fare like Turner & Hooch.
In both the original and the reboot, Doogie is a well-adjusted genius, with friends, romantic prospects, and a loving family. Kang finds compelling ways to update Bochco and Kelley’s series, including changing the setting and Doogie’s family dynamic, while retaining the innate sweetness. This Doogie is a middle child, but her IQ and career mean she’s hardly been overlooked. She’s also the only girl in her family, but her parents, played by Jason Scott Lee and Kathleen Rose Perkins, are of the warm-and-progressive variety—they support Doogie, their cool-guy son Kai (Matthew Sato), and awkward youngest child Brian (Wes Tian) equally. This “Doog” also has an oversexed, slightly obnoxious best friend/neighbor in the mold of Max Casella’s Vinnie Delpino (Emma Meisel as Steph Denisco), while working at a hospital full of doctors who are still coming to terms with having a teenager as a colleague. Kang’s reboot sets up Doogie’s mom, Dr. Clara Hannon (Perkins), as her supervisor, which will probably create friction down the road, but just leads to a mild argument about TikTok dances in the premiere.
The second episode offers a promising look at the engaging teen-centered sitcom that Doogie could blossom into, given time. Directed byErin O’Malley and written by Alison Bennett, “Love Is A Mystery” tells a story of romance and angst that encompasses multiple generations and members of the Kameāloha-Hannon family, as well as those in their midst. Doogie Kameāloha M.D. follows the original series’ suit by pairing the medical element (usually a mystery) with the vagaries of adolescence. It’s Doogie’s persistence and her family’s support, as much as her intellect, that sees her through her latest challenge.
“Aloha—The Hello One” is a stranger case. The series premiere, helmed by Jake Kasdan, directly acknowledges the existence of the original series. In fact, the Bochco-Kelley joint is the origin for Lahela’s nickname, as Dr. Lee (Ronny Chieng) tells a patient in his colleague’s care (of course, this Doogie is too young and ambitious to have watched her namesake). Kang could have just let that homage stand, along with the reworked credits; instead, she and co-executive producers Dayna Bochco and Jesse Bochco recreate moments from the Doogie Howser pilot, including the driver’s test and car accident in the opening, the exchange with a disgruntled patient, and the loss of a patient. This raises all kinds of questions: Is Lahela part of some Truman Show-like production? Do either of her parents—her mom is the right age and personality to have watched O.G. Doogie—recognize the ways their daughter’s life is imitating that of a Neil Patrick Harris character? Does NPH know about this Doogie? Is this all just another nod to the original, which could be very heightened at times? Possibly. Are we overthinking this? Almost certainly.
But even if Doogie Kameāloha M.D. isn’t really trying to give David Lynch a run for his money, it’s still an appealing new entry in the Disney+ lineup, one that fits in with the aspirational, inclusive storytelling of Diary Of A Future President and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Lee is a prepossessing performer, nailing the broader comedic beats along with the (rarer) moments of pathos. As Walter, Doogie’s hot surfer crush, Alex Aiono is the right combination of down-to-earth and unavailable. Meisel makes Steph her own libidinous character, though she has plenty of that Delpino DNA. The rest of the ensemble isn’t as developed in the first two episodes, though Jason Scott Lee makes the most of all his shaved ice dialogue. Kang, who was born in Hawaii, showcases the island’s beauty in sweeping exterior shots while employing more manageable interiors for all the characters’ residences—a reminder that Hawaii is home for many, and not just a tourist destination. If there are growing pains early on, they just lend themselves to the series’ adolescent focus. After two episodes, Doogie Kameāloha M.D. and star Peyton Elizabeth Lee come into their own.