[This is a review of Dr. Ken season episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Ken Jeong is a funny guy. Unfortunately, Dr. Ken is not a funny show, and I’m not quite sure who to blame. Jeong made his career with his madcap performance in The Hangover and brought his unique brand of lunacy to television on NBC’s Community. He’s funny and likable, but maybe he’s not comedic lead material.
Or maybe the problem is he’s bringing his wacky schtick to a rather standard sitcom role as Dr. Ken Park. ABC paired Ken with Last Man Standing on Friday nights, and there’s a good reason for that. On paper, they’re both very traditional sitcoms, following tried-and-true formulas for gentle laughs. Tim Allen excels at this kind of comedy, which is why the network has found modest success with his show in an era when traditional comedies are largely dismissed.
The problem is that Jeong isn’t giving a traditional sitcom performance. He’s physically very manic and rubbery and slithery, which seems odd coming from a doctor and family man worrying about things like his daughter getting her driver’s license and a patient threatening to sue him for an undesirable diagnosis.
If Jeong is going to be his own wacky sidekick, then he needs to have wackier storylines and wackier lines to deliver. Either make him an eccentric doctor and borderline crazy, over-protective dad, or have him reign in his performance. If he’s not hamming it up physically, Jeong is over delivering his lines. It looks like he’s overacting, but I suspect it’s more a matter of him trying to inject some of his comedic style into lines that are a complete mismatch to what he does so well.
I know Jeong was a doctor in real life, so they’re channeling his real-life experiences in building this show, but I don’t buy that he was ever the guy portrayed on-screen. I can see him being wacky and silly, but I also see him saying much weirder things. Let Jeong’s freak flag fly and the show might be stronger for it.
Everyone else in the cast is bringing much more straightforward performances, both at work and at home, which is another reason I blame the writing for a lot of what went wrong. Just look at Albert Tsai, playing Ken’s son Dave. Yes, he gets to dress up like a mime and be silly, but this kid was a breakout star on ABC’s under-appreciated one-season sitcom Trophy Wife.
That show had smart writing, and Tsai was a comedic revelation as a kid actor. Here, he’s just a standard sitcom kid. I’m happy to see him working still in television, but again he’s so much better than the material he’s being given. Suzy Nakamura, who’s proven herself both dramatically and comedically, is the standard sensible wife, while Krista Marie Yu gets to be the smart and sensible teen daughter.
The work cast is definitely stronger, with seasoned pros like Tisha Campbell-Martin, Jonathan Slavin and Dave Foley. These talents are able to find bits of comedy in their material, and it seems like this environment was a bit more inspirational for the writers as well.
Foley’s unexpected bursts of racism — both accidental and intentional — are funny, while Martin manages to pull humor as the co-worker most eager to meddle in Ken’s personal life. Kate Simses (Mixology) rounds out the work cast as the “nice one.”
There were glimmers of potential, like when Ken got arrested for trying to find daughter Molly at a nightclub, going so far as to offer an undercover cop money for “Molly.” Get it? Like the drug?
Yes, the jokes are that tame, but there is a place for this kind of comedy. Dr. Ken could stand to be funnier, but if it’s going for gentle comedy, the formula in place can work for that. Watching Dr. Park balance home and work life with an eccentric son and a popular teenage daughter is classic sitcom fodder. The writing needs to be funnier, and Jeong needs to tone it down, though, if this is what they’re going for.
Otherwise, I’d recommend letting this cast cut loose by bringing more edge to their characters and their stories. But something needs to be done, because what we’re getting now just really isn’t working.
Sitcoms often take a few weeks for the cast to find its chemistry, and for the writers to get better at matching their work to their actors, so maybe Dr. Ken will find itself. I recommend it do so fast, though, or there won’t be any viewers around to see any improvements.
Dr. Ken continues next Friday with ‘Ken Helps Pat’ @8:30pm on ABC.
Photos: Danny Feld/ABC