Dr. Ken, Season 1, Episode 21: “Korean Men’s Club”
Original airdate April 15, 2016.
Symptoms: At Allison’s urging, Ken joins a Korean men’s civic group, but rather than community service, the club is dedicated to doing “absolutely nothing” with a no-telling-wives rule. Molly enlists Dave’s tutelage in attracting a nerdy boy at school. Pat’s living in his office because his wife got everything in the divorce settlement, but he’s got his eye on Clark’s building, much to Clark’s chagrin.
Diagnosis: Asian men’s civic clubs (some, like this one, more social than civic) are a thing, and it’s cool to see one as a plot device. It’s true that the Park family is like every other American family in a thousand ways, but there are a few cultural differences in Asian American culture, and stories like this can do a lot for believability, not to mention awareness. Yet somehow, very little of the main story is very funny. Most of the laughs in this episode come from the Welltopia gang, especially Clark and Julie. The Molly-Dave interactions are cute (especially Molly’s “Now that I’ve got him nerd-hooked, it’s time to start my own process”), but it’s extremely unlikely that a seventeen-year-old American girl, even one as insulated in her own world as Molly seems to be, would be completely unfamiliar with Harry Potter, the X-Men, and Japanese anime (she calls them “Chinese cartoon movies”). I get that it serves the plot, but there’s got to be a more believable way to set all this up. She’s smart and she’s sharp. When she says to Ken, “I don’t know why you’re doing all this–you already got into college,” it’s a lot more consistent with her general (semi-cynical) awareness. It’s not a bad episode; it’s just not very memorable.
Prognosis: I watched a few other sitcoms on broadcast TV this past week: The Real O’Neals (a repeat of the series premiere, which I had not seen), Modern Family, Last Man Standing, and of course, Fresh off the Boat (a repeat), just to see (again) how Dr. Ken compares. I know it’s a small sample, but I’d put Dr. Ken right in the middle: it seems to be a fair-to-middling show, with a lot more upside than the two shows it beats (Last Man Standing is just north of awful, and Modern Family for some reason has never hooked me). Everything in the Dr. Ken‘s foundation is solid: good characters, strong acting, and nice chemistry. It just needs some writing that’s worthy of it: writing that’s creative and not lazy, thoughtful and not wacky, physical but not stupid, and relatable but not plain. “Harmless” and “safe” might have a higher success rate on an episode-by-episode basis, but the ceiling is waist-high, which is a waste of the excellent talent assembled here.
Rx: It doesn’t matter, really. Dr. Ken is either going to make it back for another season or it’s not, and there’s nothing to be done about it now, except hope. At its best, it’s a funny program with a lot to say about an impressive range of life’s weirdness, which I will address after the season’s final episode. I’m hoping for a very strong Season 1 finish. Goodness knows it’s capable, not to mention due.
In this week’s Post Show and Tell, Joz Wang and her guest co-host Phil Yu discuss the significance of ABC’s two central Asian American families on television, and Albert Tsai chimes in with another Tsai-nopsis. Do check it out.