Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 13: “D.K. and the Dishwasher”
Original airdate January 29, 2016.
Symptoms: Ken’s father D.K. visits for a couple of weeks while his wife is in Korea. He immediately begins to take care of long-neglected repairs around the house, repairs that have been on Ken’s to-do list for ages. Ken is resentful and purposely sabotages his father’s efforts. In the Welltopia offices, Damona confesses to Clark and Julie that she slept with Pat after a night of partying. Damona is stressed about the awkward conversation she’s sure she’ll have with her boss when he expresses an attachment to her, but Pat disappoints her with a much cooler attitude.
Diagnosis: The denial-by-an-accidental-lover plot device has been employed in other sitcoms, but it’s a good one, and this episode’s writer Mary Fitzgerald doesn’t take any cheap shortcuts. Damona doesn’t laugh off the experience with easy jokes about sleeping with Pat; neither the humor nor the seriousness inherent in the situation is ruined by jokes about anatomy or function. There is one quick “filling the void” joke that’s hinted at and deliberately avoided, but the laughs come from reasonable tensions and interactions all around.
This is brave writing, the sort that I’ve been longing for since episode one. Putting characters in relatable, difficult situations and letting the characters work things out trusts them to let the humor emerge, to coax the humor out of the situation rather than to treat the situation as a reason for wackiness.
I was almost sure, once I saw how gently this subplot was being treated, that its resolution would teeter over into excessive sweetness or poignancy, as has been this show’s tendency. Instead, the actors, director, and writer all hit exactly the right note by letting the characters treat each other like human beings. I’ve had issues with Damona and Pat being presented two-dimensionally, but here they simply give in to their mutual understanding of shared intimacy, and rather than offering a syrupy Blue Mountain monologue of resolution, they acknowledge each other the way real people should (but often do not). This is some of the most character-driven, character-developing writing all season.
The A story isn’t quite as deftly handled, but D.K. even recognizes this when Ken tentatively asks whether or not they should hug. “We did that at Thanksgiving,” says D.K., which is funny because it’s in character and because that’s exactly what we were all probably thinking about the Blue Mountain pep-talk he delivers, which sounds a heck of a lot like the one he gives in the Thanksgiving episode.
Prognosis: The best thing about the main plot is that Molly and Dave get some of the attention they’ve needed for several episodes. It’s mostly played for the joke, but there’s something encouraging about the way Molly listens to her grandfather’s strict rationale for an earlier curfew, and his insistence that it’s time for Dave to “be a man” confronts Dave’s quirkiness. Don’t read me incorrectly: I love that Ken and Allison give Dave all kinds of space to be interested in whatever he’s interested in, but I also love that D.K. insists there are things he needs to know how to do, and I love that Dave’s response is positive, as if to say he’s ready not to be the baby of the family anymore.
Almost the entire B story is encouraging as well. Despite my disappointment in a lot (a lot) of this show’s decisions, I’ve grown fond of the characters, and this plot is strong indication that the show’s producers, directors, and writers care about them too.
Rx: I’ve highlighted some specific, well-done things about this episode, and while I still have a few issues, an effort like this just needs to be given a gold star, followed by a “keep up the good work” note at the top of the page. More like this, please.
Don’t forget to check out this week’s Post Show and Tell, in which Joz Wang interviews Jonathan Slavin on the Dr. Ken set!