2 out of 5
Developed by: Kourtney Kang
covers season 1
There’s nothing especially bad about Disney +’s Doogie Kameāloha, M.D.; it’s just that there’s nothing much special about it at all. It’s pleasant – which is admittedly Disney’s m.o. for its series – and has some charming actors leading the fray, but as compared to some of the other recent original series appearing on the streaming stations, it’s even more milquetoast than usual, to the extent that it becomes notably neutered, almost offensively so.
Everything about this is softball: it’s called Doogie Kameāloha because that’s the nickname for 16-year old doctor Lahela Kameāloha (Peyton Elizabeth Lee), after the show Doogie Houser M.D., which has the same exact concept as this show, just not set in Hawaii. Now, “kid doctor” isn’t necessarily a trademarked thing, but this is a bizarre way to cross the street between recognition and lampshading; the Disney series uses the name as a way to skip past any setup – we jump right in to day-to-day dramas of Lahela being a doctor and a teen – and makes sure we know where the reference comes from, very much shoulder-shrugging at us with a “that’s all you need, right?” attitude. I’d applaud this in a way, except it doesn’t feel like confidence in the formula but rather a lack of it: like they’re not sure if they get the same nostalgia boost as, say, Mighty Ducks, so want to test the waters while just getting on with things.
And things are culled from a pile of generic relationship and growing-pains dynamics: Lahela has to balance working with her mother (Kathleen Rose Perkins) with the chill, sage advice of her food-truck running father (Jason Scott Lee); figuring out how to constantly convince her boyfriend (Alex Aiono) and best friend (Emma Meisel) that she’s not leaving them behind. There is, again, nothing bad about any of this, and it’s the kind of fodder that’s to be expected. However, this is the first of Disney +’s featured series that feels almost wholly kid-centric, with the adult cast being very secondary to Lahela, and this seems to have encouraged almost a complete lack of risks with the problem-of-the-weeks or personality in tellings its stories. The M.D. aspect of things is minimized to a whisper; you could deposit the cast in any other teen-focused show and it would be just fine. And Disney is, for sure, risk-adverse, but the content here seems aged down even below the age of Lahela – like, there’s no faith that the audience can handle anything even remotely complicated, or a step off of the universally-accepted-standards clean-cut path.
It’s easy, it’s pleasant, and Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Perkins, and Jason Scott Lee are all very fun to watch. But they’re really doing all the heavy lifting to give the show its minimal spark, with the rest of it – the setting, the premise, episodic plots – feeling bland to the point of nearly non-existence.