The original 1980s drama Doogie Howser M.D. about a young genius who becomes a doctor while navigating his teenage years starring Neil Patrick Harris was part of many of our formative years — including yours truly. When it was announced that Disney+ would be reimagining it through a whole different lens and setting it in Hawaii with Asian characters and a female lead, I was on board, obviously.
During this morning’s TCA session for ABC, Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. stars Peyton Elizabeth Lee as the titular teen medical genius with a heart of gold as well as Katheleen Rose Perkins and the iconic Jason Scott Lee as her parents were on hand alongside executive producers Melvin Mar, Kourtney Kang, Dayna Bochco, Jake Kasdan, and Jesse Bochco were on hand to talk about the new series which debuts son September 8 with new episodes dropping every Wednesday.
If anything, the charming and talented Andi Mack alum Peyton Elizabeth Lee made me feel old in the best way possible when she said, “I was not personally familiar with the original Doogie Howser.” However, she when she watched the original she understood why her parents loved it.
Set in modern-day Hawai‘i, Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. follows 16-year-old Lahela “Doogie” Kamealoha as she juggles a budding medical career and life as a surfing teenager who is trying to navigate her adolescence. With the support of her caring and comical ‘ohana Lahela is determined to make the most of her teenage years and forge her own path.
Guiding Lahela (and also complicating things) is her career-driven mother Dr. Clara Hannon (Kathleen Rose Perkins) who’s also her supervisor at the hospital, her doting father Benny (Jason Scott Lee) who helps keep her connected to what matters most, her free-spirited older brother Kai (Matthew Sato), her gregarious younger brother Brian Patrick (Wes Tian) her best friend Steph (Emma Meisel), her surfer crush Walter (Alex Aiono) and her fellow hospital colleagues played by Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Mapuana Makia, and Ronny Chieng.
The show came to be when Mar, who served as a producer on the groundbreaking Fresh Off the Boat, wanted to keep the momentum going with Asian American representation in sitcoms. He wanted to do another Asian American-led series and he teamed with Kang to pitch the reimagining to the Bochcos and the rest is history.
As you can see, the cast is inclusive and includes Hawaii natives including Jason Scott Lee but at the same time, Kang along with her fellow producers wanted to put the series through an authentic lens. Specifically, Kang stresses that their “ethnicity isn’t their character”. She wanted to make them nuanced and with the character of Benny, she worked with Scott Lee to make the character authentic but also balanced. In addition, Kang based his and Perkins’ characters on her own parents.
The show comes during a pandemic and is set in a hospital. Kang admits that she and the team agreed to not reference or include COVID in any way because they wanted to make the reimagining “escapist and uplifting”.
The show has easter eggs from the original series that fans will immediately enjoy but Peyton Elizabeth Lee says that you don’t have to know the original series to enjoy this show. As far as a cameo from the original Doogie, played by NPH — the actor has shown interest. Kang worked with Harris on How I Met Your Mother and reached out to him. He’s been supportive of the series and although he doesn’t appear in season one, he may appear in a second season if it happens.
And finally, the topic of White Lotus came up during the panel. Although the two series are wildly different, the divisive and buzzy Hawaii-set HBO drama came into the conversation and Jesse Bochco guaranteed that “no one goes to the bathroom in anyone’s suitcase.”