‘Dr. Ken’ Takes A Conventional Approach To Making Ken Jeong A Sitcom Lead

ABC has been pushing Dr. Ken as a show about “a real doctor – and now a TV doctor.” Starring Ken Jeong, who is, in fact, a real doctor, now plays one on TV, getting his first starring role here as Ken Sharp, a well-intentioned family man trying to strike a balance between work and home. It’s a well-worn sitcom premise, and while Jeong is a talented comedic actor, he’s best known for supporting roles like Chang in Community and Chow in The Hangover trilogy, both of which characters that usually worked best when delivered in smaller doses.

The pilot opens on Stephen Tobolowsky playing a hapless patient bent over in an examination room, self-diagnosing his problem as hemorrhoids. Dr. Ken then emerges from behind and recommends a colonoscopy, but not before berating his patient’s intelligence and lack of a medical knowledge, going so far as to call him “Web MD-bag,” before being further mocking him until he leaves the office screaming. At this point, just a few seconds in, it seems that we’re getting some kind of sitcom version of Dr. House, an egomaniacal, condescending jerk — but one who’s usually right, medically speaking.

Afterwards, Ken makes a crass comment to his therapist, further indicating the kind of mean-spirited humor, only to have it turn out that the therapist is his wife, Allison (Suzy Nakamura), which seems weird in itself. Also, they both answer to “Dr. Park,” which seems like it’s destined to become a recurring joke for the show at some point. It turns out Ken’s been especially irritable because their daughter is about to get her driver’s license, and her growing up terrifies him. His son is also working on a mime routine to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” which doesn’t exactly thrill him, either.

Ken ends up going against his protective instincts and lets his daughter borrow his car to go to her friend’s house to study, before downloading a “Daughter Tracker” app on his phone to secretly keep tabs on her, only to find out she’s exactly where she’d promised to be — studying at her friend Avery’s. Later, when his wife grows suspicious of his screaming, couch-leaping determination to keep his phone out of her hands, he tries to blame “multiple” extramarital affairs and prostitution before finally admitting he’d been spying on their daughter. While she’s clearly upset by this, once Ken sees that Allison is heading downtown, he throws it all out the window, taking to the minivan to go and find her.

The app leads him to the outside of a rave, and once he tears off his sleeves and offers some medical advice to the bouncer in exchange for admission, he starts pushing his way through the crowd, screaming loudly for his daughter, who happens to be named Molly. So, this puts a sleeveless Ken Jeong forcefully wandering through a rave, panicking and screaming the name of an illegal drug that would be popular at such an event, it ends with him being arrested. It also sets itself up for a pretty great punchline from his bearded, burnt out cellmate later, arguably the highlight of the episode.

Before long, as his family comes to bail him out, Ken learns that his daughter wasn’t at the rave after all, only her jacket with her phone in the pocket. He’s humbled to realize that he should’ve trusted his daughter all along, and admits he was wrong. Like the show, it’s a formulaic approach to an ending, as everyone engages in a group hug while one of them is behind bars. Two if you include the bearded, burnt out cellmate when he joins in.

It also turns out that there are consequences to his lack of bedside manner, as Pat (Dave Foley), the Trump-haired hospital administrator, has ordered that Ken apologize to the patient for his insensitive comments earlier. He also makes it a point to regularly remind everyone that he was in charge of three Circuit City stores (repeatedly pointing out that they even called him The Mayor).

In another standard surprise turn of events, the patient apologizes, revealing that he’d gotten the procedure Dr. Ken had recommended, and it very well may have saved his life. So, the comical Dr. House comparison holds some water, though it does make an attempt to balance out the character through his insecurities as a parent and, to a lesser degree, husband and patient. (Seriously, the spouse-as-therapist thing is weird, right?) It’s still rough around the edges, but edging down Jeong’s typically manic behavior might allow him to become a likable character who also happens to brutally insult his patients if Dr. Ken finds its way.