‘Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.’ Puts a Charming Spin on ‘Doogie Howser’: TV Review

by 24USATVSept. 9, 2021, 8 a.m. 20
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As Disney Plus continues down the road of rebooting and reviving as many nostalgic properties as possible — a road well-traveled and highly polished thanks to savvy spins like “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” — it’s hard to begrudge the strategy when it produces something as sweet as “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.” More than 30 years after “Doogie Howser, M.D.” first premiered on ABC, starring a teenaged Neil Patrick Harris as the iconic child doctor, Disney Plus has debuted its own thoroughly wholesome version with a Doogie as sunny as Harris’ was self-serious.

In Kourtney Kang’s update, Lahela “Doogie” Kamealoha (the very charming Peyton Elizabeth Lee) is a 16 year-old Hawaiian girl who loves the beach, her family, and a cute surfer (Alex Aiono) who doesn’t make her feel too weird about being a doctor prodigy. (In a meta move, her “Doogie” nickname comes courtesy of her adult coworkers — played by Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman ad Ronny Chieng — teasing her with a direct reference to the kid doctor of the ABC series.) Lahela’s father Benny (scene-stealer Jason Scott Lee) left a stressful finance job to embrace beach life while her mother Clara (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is the head doctor at Lahela’s hospital — which, yes, makes her Lahela’s boss, too. It’s a smart twist on the fraught father-son dynamic that persisted throughout “Doogie Howser,” layering friction into Lahela and Clara’s relationship without weighing it down so much that a conflict can’t be resolved by episode’s end.

For fans of “Doogie Howser” watching “Doogie Kamealoha” — which at this point probably means parents of the kids making up Disney Plus’ core audience — there are plenty of nods. The pilot mirrors the original’s, with Lahela helping out at a roadside crash scene, going to a school dance, and losing a particularly special patient. She even has a diary, though hers is of course a vlog instead of a word processor that barely works faster than a typewriter.

Still, “Doogie Kamealoha” is a bit more unusual in its place as a Disney Plus reboot insomuch as it’s not bringing a beloved Disney franchise into this era (as seen with “The Mighty Ducks” and “Turner and Hooch”), but turning an ABC property into a shinier Disney product. More than anything, it feels like a single-camera version of a Disney Channel sitcom, as bright, earnest, and heartfelt as its lead.

“Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.” is currently available to stream on Disney Plus.

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