With the airing earlier this week of the last of 10 episodes of “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.,” it’s time to reflect on and endorse a second season for the Disney+ Hawaii-based, Hawaii-filmed show.
Without doubt, “Doogie” is the best thing to happen here since sliced pineapple.
It’s authentic, credible, consistent, groundbreaking and professional, from top to bottom.
OK, its inspiration is yesteryear’s Neil Patrick Harris medical sitcom, “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” reshaped and rebooted with a new spin – updated for today, wholly filmed here, boasting more local faces on camera and off whose presence glows and certifies the show as a bona fide Hawaii gem.
Simply, this one is a measuring rod and a model of execution for other filmed-in-the-islands productions to adopt. It’s got the visual integrity among its population of characters and actors, knowing looks matter more than the visitor-appealing customary sights and scenes of tropical Hawaii filling network series.
An unlikely lass named Lahela becomes a doctor at 16 and is conflicted with high school expections, so it’s simultaneously an homage to the original sitcom and a journey for modern times. Lahela has to deal with surgeries, as a certified medic, but she struggles to get her driver’s license and boyfriend decisions, too. Like, should he go pro as a paid surfer and leave his lovey-dovey at home? Domestic matters compete with hospital commitments, too, because mom Dr. Clara Hannon (played by Kathleen Rose Perkins) rules at home yet doubles as her hospital administrator. It’s a unique balancing act of tough, often hilarious, situations.
Peyton Elizabeth Lee portrays the titular character, and she’s perky, cute, charming and respectful, a lofty inspiration for aspirational kids. While she might look like the kid down the street, she is New York-born but her hapa looks fit the template of the show.
Lahela’s world quickly becomes our world, a tropical paradise with sunny skies, verdant seas, and laced with teen issues and complications that intersect both her medical career and her peers.
Her family is our family – and this is the show’s strength and attraction: most of the actors playing real-life roles look like us. Asian, Hawaiian, haole, hapa. It’s a rainbow collection of normalcy for us folks in the islands.
The show, adapted by Hawaii-born Kourtney Kang, is based on the original series by collaborators Steven Bocho and David E. Kelley which aired on ABC for four seasons and made Harris a star from the get-go.
Its localness surely was a draw for Jason Scott Lee, an actor somewhat semi-retired and residing on the Big Island, to return to active acting playing Benny Kamealoha, Lahela’s appealing and often off-center dad, who operates a shave ice-and-flowers wagon and proves to be the most natural and adorable pidgin-spouting cast member with a most congenial smile and laughter. Lee, who likely really didn’t need the work, must’ve sensed an opportunity to jump-start his on-and-off Hollywood credits. He played Bruce Lee in a biopic early in his career, portrayed the King of Siam in a London musical mounting of “The King and I,” and last was seen on the big screen as the antagonist Bori Kahn in Disney’s live-action “Mulan.”
The Kamealoha clan includes Matt Sato as the elder son, Kai Kamealoha; he is wickedly funny, with a head of wavy hair that attracts attention, and teen girls adore him. His roots are in Mililani, the westside Oahu community, and his occasional sibling friction with sister Lahela could be stuff your kids argue about.
Wes Tian as Brian Patrick Kamealoha, the youngest son/brother, is from Chicago but convincingly fits into the ohana. He brings a wry comedic spin to the plate.
Several secondary players – Alex Aiono, as Lahela’s boyfriend Walter Camara, from Phoenix; Emma Meisel, as Lahela’s BFF Steph Denisco, from Los Angeles; Mapuana Makia as nurse Noelani Hakayama , from Maui; and Ronny Chieng, as Dr. Lee, from Malaysia; and Jeffrey Boyer-Chapman, as nurse Charles, from Canada – complete the mixed plate inner circle of the show.
For the out-of-town crews, both on and off camera, onetime Hollywood producer Chris Lee, has served as a consulting producer, to provide kokua and guidance from his decades-long savvy in film production. So a shout-out to Lee, who helps make wrongs right in his oversight.
The John A. Burns School of Medicine, an actual University of Hawaii working “campus” for future doctors in training at Kewalo Basin, has a key role weekly on “Doogie Kamealoha.” The show’s hospital wing utilizes available space at JABSOM, which occasionally shows off the glories of the Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head in overhead or distance shots.
The show’s concluding chapter, episode 10, was as good as it gets – capped by the last of three guest-role appearances of the late Al Harrington, who played Uncle John. He died several weeks ago, after completing his guest spots, and a closing acknowledgement of his passing was a noble send-off. And the oooh-oooh voicing of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole singing his iconic version of “Over th Rainbow,” was a defining moment that demonstrated the show’s prowess and power of a lingering episodic comedy.
A final observation: Lahela’s monologue at the concluding moments of each show — where she composes and spouts observations of life and love, speaking from the heart for her online blog – serves as a flashpoint of humanity and honesty, akin to the family dinners of “Blue Bloods,” where the day’s or week’s concerns are discussed and resolved with truth and inspiration.
Hope Lahela continues this tradition…in the not-yet-announced second season. …
And that’s Show Biz …