Hit or Sh**: ABC’s DR. KEN
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
You probably know physician-turned-actor Ken Jeong as the trunk Asian from THE HANGOVER, or the “ha, gay!” guy on COMMUNITY. I like to remember him for his actually entertaining role of King Argotron from ROLE MODELS, but that’s just me. Now, everyone will recognize the fictionalized version of himself from his new sitcom, DR. KEN, on ABC. This time around, Ken is a doctor and a father. The show alternates between his interactions with his staff at work and his family at home.
Where most hospital shows have actors playing witty medical professionals, DR. KEN boldly flips the formula by having a real doctor pretend to be a funny guy. The laugh-tracked pilot opens with Ken mimicking a patient who doesn’t want to have a colonoscopy, and its condition only deteriorates moving forward. Its sense of humor is on the level of a pair of fourth-graders goofing off while waiting for their mom to pick them up from karate lessons. Lazy writing and a smattering of left-hanging jokes are recurring symptoms in DR. KEN, the comicality riding entirely on the over-the-top delivery and mannerisms of the cast.
Taken during weekly table read-throughs
Let me give you an example of a joke in DR. KEN. Dave Foley plays Pat, the hospital administrator who likes to brag about his authority. Ken attacks Pat’s imperious nature by saying Pat is a businessman and not a doctor, and couldn’t possibly understand Ken’s motives. Pat retorts that while Ken was wasting his time in med school, he was managing three Circuit Cities to record profits [LAUGH TRACK]. Pat then mentions that he was called “The Mayor” [GIGGLE], elaborating that it was because the store was called Circuit CITY and he was in charge of it [AUDIENCE DIES]. The writers were so proud of this zinger they even bring it back at the end of the episode.
The characters in DR. KEN remind me of the glitched programs from that episode of RICK AND MORTY where Jerry doesn’t realize he’s in a simulation. Actors will deliver a set-up for a joke and then hold their pose and expression with statuesque discipline while Ken, giddy as all Hell, waltzes around the set delivering punchlines. They are soulless mannequins inhabiting Jeong’s twisted version of reality where he can carry a comedy series, and I found myself unnerved watching it, contemplating what must be racing through their minds after delivering each painful howler, unable to scream or cry out for help.
“There is no escape”
To be fair, DR. KEN doesn’t have groundbreaking levels of schlock. It’s certainly no worse than THE BIG BANG THEORY, or any other production-line sitcom populating the airwaves. And to give credit where it’s due, the pilot featured shockingly low amounts of exposition. The show doesn’t aspire to be anything greater than anything else on the market, and in that sense, it is a success. It epitomizes bad television without setting an example, indistinguishable among its peers. If you like to watch Ken Jeong yell at his kids, hate your life, or are an idiot, then DR. KEN is for you. Otherwise, the diagnosis is simple: terminal case of sh**. Recommended treatment: hard pass.
DR. KEN airs on ABC on Fridays.