As a cable TV cord cutter, I have a Channel Master DVR+, a digital video recorder that allows me to record TV shows that were broadcast over the air. It’s like a VCR for the era of digital TV. I also have a Slingbox M-1, which allows me to watch shows I’ve recorded on said DVR, anywhere I happen to be (as long as there’s good Wi-Fi/wireless data connection), on my smartphone. The Slingbox also lets me watch live, over-the-air broadcast TV, again dependent upon a good Wi-Fi connection.
On top of that, I also have Netflix and Amazon Prime Video subscriptions. Having already paid for the DVR and Slingbox, it’s a cheaper scenario than cable — so while I don’t pay for cable TV, I do pay for the broadband (which I’d have to pay for anyway), which works out for me.
In theory, then, I can watch live TV and recorded shows, as well as the offerings from those aforementioned streaming services, anytime the mood strikes. In practice, however, I only get to watch stuff when I’m stuck in one place doing chores like washing dishes. (I know, pretty pathetic.)
On my DVR, I have 21 unwatched episodes of “Dr. Ken,” which ABC recently announced was getting canceled. The show, starring comedian and actual physician Ken Jeong, aired its season finale March 31.
Why do I have 21 unwatched episodes of “Dr. Ken,” you may be wondering? It must be because there aren’t enough unwashed dishes, right? (By the way, am I the only one who equates leaving just-used plates, utensils and glasses in the sink for later equivalent to taking a dump and not flushing the toilet? Is it that hard to rinse off your stuff and put it in the dishwasher?! Or actually just hand-wash it?!! OK, deep breaths … think butterflies, think puppies. Ah, better.)
Back to “Dr. Ken,” I have an admission to make: I liked the idea of the show better than the show itself. In my many years of writing this column, I’ve been an advocate for not just including Asian Americans in ensemble casts in TV series, I’ve also been on the bandwagon for getting an Asian American to be the lead of a show. Since that has happened so few times, criticizing “Dr. Ken” was never something I did. (Same thing for “Fresh Off the Boat.”)
But now that it’s finished, I can say that “Dr. Ken” was just OK. It was not a show so compelling that I’d make it a point to watch it if I had a choice between watching an episode of it vs. say, an episode of “Better Call Saul” on Netflix while washing those dishes.
But don’t get me wrong — I consider “Dr. Ken” to have been a success. Just getting a TV series produced and on the air is so tremendously difficult, having had “Dr. Ken” on for two seasons is an outstanding accomplishment.
Here’s the thing: Most ideas for TV shows don’t make the cut. Those that do get funding for a pilot get no further than that. Those shows that do make it to being aired can still have the plug pulled after just a couple of airings. “Dr. Ken” lasted for two seasons! That’s good! Not only that, the series that preceded “Dr. Ken” — “Last Man Standing,” which starred Tim Allen — also got the axe. That is what happens most of the time.
Ken Jeong (center) on the set of “Dr. Ken” with members of his TV family (from left): Dana Lee as father D.K., Suzy Nakamura as wife Allison, Albert Tsai as son Dave, and Krista Marie Yu as daughter Molly.
All the actors were talented and versatile, and Jeong’s portrayal of Dr. Ken Park as a smarter and more competent Deputy Barney Fife was perfectly fine. I didn’t, however, much care for some of the show’s characters in the protagonist’s actual family and work family.
“Dr. Ken” was a shticky network sitcom with the requisite smart-ass kids and put-upon spouse, and wacky and weird co-workers and in-laws who sling zingers and engage in routine setup-punchline repartee.
But, in the greater calculus of American network TV, that is what I call an achievement, a proof-of-concept that a sitcom with a primarily Asian American cast could be as conventional, middling and pedestrian as any other network TV offering! It was what people like me wanted and what was delivered.
What Pat Morita accomplished in the 1970s with the short-lived “Mr. T and Tina” was carried a bit further 20 years later by Margaret Cho’s “All-American Girl” for an entire season, and carried a bit further another 20 years later by Ken Jeong’s “Dr. Ken.” But things have improved now in Hollywood to the point that it won’t take another 20 years for the next Asian American sitcom.
More positive news: All of “Dr. Ken’s” Asian American cast members are now on the radar screens of casting directors, showrunners and the like. Thanks to “Dr. Ken,” Jeong proved that he had the talent and stamina to be the lead of a show. He’ll get more work. In fact, Jeong has been cast for a role in the upcoming movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” based on the novel of the same name.
Also, I have to surmise that Jeong and the show knew the music was about to end. After getting the news that “Dr. Ken” was canned, I finally decided to watch that aforementioned season finale I had recorded, and I have to say, it was very meta. (I can’t call the following a spoiler since it already aired, but in case you also have a digital stockpile of unwatched “Dr. Ken” episodes, skip to the next section of this column.)
In it, Ken Park learns that he has been called in to audition for a part in a sitcom. It turns outs a talent scout had seen Park doing standup at comedy club. (It was already established in the show that the good doctor had been doing some moonlighting as a standup comedian.)
To cut to the chase, a TV showrunner, a character named Dan Harmon, decides to cast Park in a sitcom — which means Park now must choose between pursuing what he loves and the uncertainty of show business and quitting his medical practice.
With the support of his wife, Allison (played by Suzy Nakamura) and other family members, and co-workers who conveniently are visiting his house, he chooses the sitcom, meaning his ties to this work family will be ending. Then, Ken Park’s blood family and work family engage in a group hug. Would that have happened if they didn’t know the end was nigh? Not only that, the Parks’ daughter, Molly (Krista Marie Yu), is leaving for college. Everything, it seems, in the “Dr. Ken” universe, is changing.
The final scene is Park playing a