Ken Jeong is a doctor, and now he plays one on TV. The real-life doctor-turned-comedian-turned-actor stars in "Dr. Ken" as the title character, a physician who needs to work on his bedside manner. Jeong, best known for his roles in the "Hangover" films and the television show "Community," is funniest when he plays over-the-top characters who drop into a story and steal the scene from the main players. "Dr. Ken" doesn't allow Jeong to do what he does best, and the show suffers for it.
When Jeong is the focus of a scene, he is often funny. In one episode, his character treats a patient who decides to stop taking her thyroid medication on the advice of a guy from Whole Foods. The interaction gives Jeong room to deliver snarky punchlines while his character grows more and more frustrated. In another scene, he tries to show his nurse Clark that he can work without him by embracing his replacement. Jeong puts his over-the-top spin on it, and it's laugh-out-loud funny. Both scenes work because Jeong hits his mark with the right amount of bite. When he has to share too much screen time with the ensemble cast however, his edge softens and the comedy starts to feel stale.
The ensemble includes Dr. Ken's wife Allison (Suzy Nakamura), their children Dave (Albert Tsai) and Molly (Krist Marie Yu) and his co-workers, nurses Damona (Tisha Campbell-Martin) and Clark (Jonathan Slavin), fellow doctor Julie (Kate Simses) and administrator Pat (Dave Foley). No one, except possibly Clark, stands out as a character you want to spend time getting to know. Dave Foley is given very little to do and Tisha Campbell-Martin is stuck with a character whose primary role seems to be shaking her head at all the dumb things her colleagues do. Kate Simses' Dr. Julie is supposed to be funny because she has a high-pitched voice. Jeong doesn't have much to work with when he has to play off these characters and when they are in scenes without him, the jokes fall flat.
On the domestic side of things, Dr. Ken's home life feels like a distraction. The series would be better off leaving it to the viewer's imagination and focusing on his office life. Despite the uninspiring characters who make up Ken's work family, there is some potential there to be a solid send-up of doctors primarily because Jeong puts more energy into that part of the show.
Unfortunately, the series is trying to be too many things and doesn't excel at any of them. More importantly, it doesn't play to Jeong's comedic strengths. As the lead in "Dr. Ken," he gets laughs when he is allowed to do something unexpected or slightly outrageous. There are not enough of these moments, making "Dr. Ken" a very average situation comedy.
"Dr. Ken" premieres Friday, Oct. 2 at 8:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Melissa Crawley is the author of "Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing.'" She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.