Review: Dr Ken 1×1 (US: ABC)

Another dick doctor

In the US: Fridays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

If there’s a message to take away from the latest crop of medical dramas that the networks have foist so far on us this autumn, it’s that the American public like their doctors to be dicks. Dicks who are right and will make you better medically, but fundamentally, who are complete dicks with the bedside manner of a marine drill sergeant. We’ve already had lone-wolf racist surgeon dick Jennifer Beals over on TNT’s Proof and an entire hospital of nurse and doctor dicks over on CBS in Code Black – particularly Marcia Gay Harden. And now we have ‘actually used to be a doctor in real life’ dick doctor Ken Jeong in Dr Ken.

I’m not sure the cause of this. Maybe it’s ‘the Donald Trump effect’ making viewers crave a complete dick to order them about. Maybe it’s nearly a decade of House that’s conditioned everyone to be expect doctors to be misanthropic geniuses. Or maybe it’s a realistic reflection of the US medical system. After all, Alec Baldwin was kind of a dick surgeon in Malice all the way back in 1993.

Whatever the reason, that’s what we’ve got in Dr Ken. Now admittedly, Ken Jeong has made a career out of being a dick, first as a doctor (I’m assuming), then as a stand-up, then as the insane teacher, Chang, in Community and then as the funny naked crime lord, Leslie Chow, of The Hangover and its sequels.

He’s funny and edgy. However, beyond the fact he’s been a doctor in real life and he’s also a producer and writer for Dr Ken, it’s not clear why he should be shoe-horned into a multi-camera family sitcom in which he makes proctology jokes. Beyond the fact that TV doctors are apparently all now dicks and Jeong’s good at playing a dick, even a mild dick.

And he is quite mild in this. The show dwells on two areas: home and office. Home is home. It’s the same as any other sitcom family, with Jeong and his therapist wife (Suzy Nakamura) tusselling for control over home and children, Jeong being less sympathetic to his kids than she. Because he’s a mildly dickish TV doctor, but also because that’s how US family sitcoms work. 

At the office, Jeong spends his time being dickish to his annoying patients, quarrelling and gossiping with his diverse, joke-playing co-workers, and tusselling for control over patients and staff with administrator Dave Foley (Kids In The Hall, How To Be A Gentleman, Spun Out). Even though Jeong and the cast do their best, the script never really delivers the funny in either domain, although Foley’s inadvertent racism almost manages to raise some chuckles. Unfortunately, it crosses a line and just becoming unpleasant. The only other joke of note? Jeong looking for his daughter, Molly, in a night club and finding something quite different instead. And I’ve just spoiled that one for you.

Perhaps the only point where the show ever really becomes interesting is when Jeong acts and talks like a doctor. It may be dry stuff, for just for a moment, you might find your sleeping brain cells stirred into life.

Other than that, consider this the next Cristela.




  • Mark Carroll

    My wife instigated the watching of this. I was ready for it to be execrable but I concede that it wasn't wholly terrible. It's not worth watching, but there's certainly been worse. Perhaps it's still finding its feet. While it's looking for them, with luck it'll leave that intrusive laugh track behind. In my wife's words, “If they actually get some decent writers there's a chance that it could be amusing.”

  • Mark Carroll

    My wife instigated the watching of this. I was ready for it to be execrable but I concede that it wasn’t wholly terrible. It’s not worth watching, but there’s certainly been worse. Perhaps it’s still finding its feet. While it’s looking for them, with luck it’ll leave that intrusive laugh track behind. In my wife’s words, “If they actually get some decent writers there’s a chance that it could be amusing.”

    • Oh yes, there have definitely been worse and as I’m discovering this season, practically every pilot has been both awful and not very indicative of one the subsequent episodes are like. A few exceptions, but the tendency to try to cram everything into the first episode before it’s fully thought out and then to re-evaluate for the second episode and beyond has been considerably pronounced this year. IIRC pilot commissioning was slightly later than normal this season, which meant possibly shows got rushed into production before they were ready

  • Oh yes, there have definitely been worse and as I'm discovering this season, practically every pilot has been both awful and not very indicative of one the subsequent episodes are like. A few exceptions, but the tendency to try to cram everything into the first episode before it's fully thought out and then to re-evaluate for the second episode and beyond has been considerably pronounced this year. IIRC pilot commissioning was slightly later than normal this season, which meant possibly shows got rushed into production before they were ready