October 2, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Dr. Ken”


DR. KEN:  Friday 8:30PM on ABC – Change the Channel

It’s going to be a neck and neck battle this fall between ABC’s DR KEN and NBC’s Truth Be Told (which will soon air directly against it) as to which takes the title of Fall’s Worst Sitcom.  Truth Be Told is tone-deaf and generally miserable, but don’t underestimate the sheer obnoxiousness of Dr. Ken.

Ken Jeong’s much-told origin story is that he was an MD before his comedy career took off, and as a practicing physician, he should be familiar with the idea of “best taken in small doses.”  When he’s in the supporting cast of comedies like Knocked Up, The Hangover, and Community, he can be hilarious.  But placed in the foreground–as Community mistakenly put him at times–he’s such an overpoweringly shrill presence that he not only stops being funny, he shorts out the comedy around him.  (It isn’t that he doesn’t know how to flip his own “off” switch, either–he was quite effective doing a low-key serious turn in the tiny indie drama Advantageous.)

Jeong is the leading man in Dr. Ken, a show that he developed (with Jared Stern) for himself around an alternate timeline, to use the Community term, in which someone very like him (named “Dr. Ken Park”) remained a doctor.  It’s all too much.  Jeong’s volume knob is stuck at “11” at the best of times, with a constant display of flailing gestures to go with the vocals, and his character is designed to be loud and grating on top of that.  Since the multi-camera, filmed before a live audience format calls for a certain amount of heightened theatricality anyway, watching Dr Ken becomes a singularly unpleasant experience–they could almost pass it off as “performance art”.

The pilot script makes hardly any attempt at a plot.  It begins with hemorrhoid jokes, aimed by Dr. Ken at an overweight patient, and doesn’t get more sophisticated after that.  Dr. Ken ridicules the ill, his co-workers, even his aspiring mime son (Albert Tsai, recently of Trophy Wife), and while this is meant to be bad behavior, we’re nevertheless supposed to find it hysterical.  It’s not.  Everyone on screen is merely a foil for Jeong (his stock exasperated yet supportive therapist wife is played by Suzy Nakamura, and Dave Foley and Tisha Campbell-Martin are among his colleagues).  A star vehicle with a repellent star doesn’t leave much to watch.

Dr Ken does have a fairly easy timeslot going for it, with the aforementioned Truth Be Told, the declining Amazing Race and Masterchef Jr as competition.  Expectations won’t be high, given the very modest lead-in it will be getting from Last Man Standing.  But that slot nevertheless killed the far more worthy The Neighbors and Cristela over the past two seasons, and it’s hard to imagine a better result for this one.  Dr Ken is far from the first instance that proves the potential perils of a performer self-medicating with custom-made scripts, but it’s one of the most off-putting in recent memory.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."