ABC’s new offering “Dr. Ken” lives and dies by the energy of its lead Ken Jeong. The actor, who played drug addled in “The Hangover” and borderline on “Community,” does an about-face as family-man HMO physician Dr. Ken Park, who resents his whiny patients and frets about the hypothetical (so far) misadventures of his teenage daughter.
The show’s other players gently orbit Jeong’s bright star and are sometimes scorched by his flares of humor in an otherwise formulaic sitcom with its canned laughter and bright, uniformly lit set.
That “Dr. Ken” should be so unexciting seems both a shame and somewhat ironic given the kudos being heaped on ABC for the diversity of its fall lineup, which also features “Fresh Off the Boat,” new series “Quantico” boasting Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra and “Black-ish,” which scored an Emmy nomination this year for its lead, Anthony Anderson.
In relating the foibles of a contemporary Asian-American family, the “Dr. Ken” pilot presents the Parks as achingly middle American with a plot and dialogue that could be inserted into an episode of any sitcom with actors of any ethnic makeup. If the goal is to show that this Asian-American sitcom family is just like any other American sitcom family, the show’s creative team have succeeded too well and landed “Dr. Ken”– executive produced by Mike Sikowitz, John Davis and John Fox with Jeong and Mike O’Connell as co-executive producers — smack in the middle of average.
The family dynamic resembles that of any number of TV comedies with the voice-of-reason wife, therapist Allison (Suzy Nakamura); the offbeat young son Dave (Albert Tsai), whose personal exploration and experimentation — with pantomime in the pilot — divide his parents’ desires to both support and guide him; and pretty, popular teen Molly (Krista Marie Yu), whose nebulous life outside of the family home confounds and worries her loving parents.
At the hospital, Tisha Campbell Martin plays the department’s straight-talking receptionist Damona ; Jonathan Slavin is genial nurse and the doctor’s sidekick Clark; Kate Simses appears as upbeat and oblivious resident Julie; and Dave Foley, as bottom line-obsessed hospital administrator Pat, evokes insufferable “Office Space” boss Bill Lumbergh.
“Dr. Ken” is “The Goldbergs” minus the ’80s hair; it is every sitcom that has recycled the “Roseanne” living room layout; it is Dad making inappropriate sex jokes, Old Spice for Christmas and the “Frozen” soundtrack played on a loop by the theatrical middle child. It is safe, family fare led by an enthusiastic comedian — and licensed physician in real life — willing his creation to thrive with every face pulled.
Admirable, but Jeong’s longtime fans may have been hoping for something more ambitious — ar at least less normal.
“Dr. Ken” premieres Friday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.
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