Most people don’t associate Ken Jeong with family-friendly comedy. Since his stints in The Hangover movies and other related topic films, one would be crazy to hire him for a family sitcom. Turns out that ABC network was crazy enough to do so and is now about to premiere that sitcom starring Jeong himself.
I had the opportunity to watch Dr. Ken a few weeks ago and was eager to see exactly how Jeong would fit the role as a sitcom dad. The synopsis of the show is based off Jeong’s real life experience as a physician:
Doctor turned actor/comedian Ken Jeong (Community, The Hangover), plays Dr. Ken, a brilliant physician with no bedside manner. He is always trying to be a good doctor, as well as a good husband and dad to his two kids. However, these good intentions have a way of driving everyone crazy at both work and at home. Luckily, his therapist wife Allison is just the right partner to keep things sane.
The role, in fact, would come easy to Jeong as he indeed began his working life as a real-life doctor earning his undergraduate degree at Duke University and later his M.D. at the University of North Carolina. He eventually came to California as a general practitioner, while at the same time developing his stand-up comedy routines.
His early years of being a doctor and comedian very much influenced the new comedy, which feels like an exaggerated recollection of Jeong’s real-life experiences as a practicing physician. The jokes themselves can be adult-slanted, but a majority of them fall into the family-friendly zone. Beyond the comedy, I felt that the sitcom started off rather slow and rather “safe”. The story followed a traditional sitcom format: an introduction of a conflict, which is propelled in a funny way, and is ultimately driven to an emotional pivot leaving a viewer feeling fuzzy and happy inside.
Perhaps it was the writing or just new show jitters, but I found myself laughing at times and then wondering how far this show could really go. Jeong himself seemed to be positioned as the center of my attention throughout the episode, but the question remains of whether or not Jeong’s comedic personality and the show’s writing team are strong enough to keep audiences tuned in for multiple seasons.
The prospect of future seasons didn’t seem important to Jeong when he jumped on stage after the private screening at ABC’s HQ that I attended. He, as well as the showrunner Mike Sikowitz and the ABC executives on hand at the screening, were more enlightened of the fact that this would be the second Asian-centered show to hit primetime on a major TV network in nearly two decades (the first being Fresh Off The Boat which ABC renewed for a second season).
I must say that the pilot screening I attended was being hosted by a coalition that promotes Asian-Americans in media, and while that might have contributed to the overall positive sentiment for the show, I was thinking more about what Jeong didn’t want to think about – the success of the show.
Although the world is getting another Asian family on TV, they aren’t getting one that uses its ethnicity as a means of the jokes. Jeong even cursed at the possibility of having his new show be used as a platform for stereotypical Asian jokes. What is more important to Jeong was being able to create a colorblind show – a show that would not see the race of the actors, but how the actors carried the story.
Dr. Ken is completely different compared to its counterpart, Fresh off the Boat. The new sitcom doesn’t revolve around a family being Asian, but just tells a story about a man trying to balance his work and home life. Comparing the two sitcoms, though, might be unfair as they have completely different themes, storylines, and laugh factors.
What is similar about the two shows is that they want to follow in the footsteps of popular sitcoms that have come before them. They were shows that tugged at your heartstrings, told memorable stories, and glued it all together with a hefty load of laughter. While I was underwhelmed with Dr. Ken’s pilot episode, I think that it still has the opportunity to develop into a great show and join the ranks of amazing family sitcoms like The Cosby Show and Full House.
The following episodes after the pilot will show whether or not we’ll have the favorable side effects of the comedy drugs that Dr. Ken prescribed.