Appellate Judge Mac McEntire misspelled the word "genius" three times while writing this review.
Our reviews of Doogie Howser, M.D.: Season One (published April 6th, 2005), Doogie Howser, M.D.: Season Two (published November 9th, 2005), and Doogie Howser, M.D.: Season Three (published February 8th, 2006) are also available.
Dr. Canfield: "What must it be like to be you?"
Some TV series, when read just by their descriptions, fall under the category of "How'd they think of that?" Like a genie falling love with an astronaut. Or a cute high school girl with a destiny to battle vampires. Or, in the case of Doogie Howser, M.D., a teenage doctor. That this series got made is a miracle. That it's amusing and (mostly) believable is a medical miracle.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Douglas "Doogie" Howser (Neil Patrick Harris, Undercover Brother) is a bona fide child genius. He graduated from Princeton at age 10, and by 15 he was a doctor in residence at a major LA hospital. This season, he's 19, and a lot more grown up, moving into his own Venice Beach apartment, and playing the dating game while not saving lives.
Meanwhile, Doogie still has time to hang out with horny best friend Vinnie (Max Casella, Ed Wood) and his parents David (James B. Sikking, Hill Street Blues) and Katherine (Belinda Montgomery, Days of Our Lives). At the hospital, Doogie is backed up by nurse Curly Spaulding (Kathryn Lang, The Marrying Man), former gang-banger turned orderly Raymond (Markus Redmond Fight Club), and his stern boss Dr. Canfield (Lawrence Pressman, American Pie).
I found this episode list buried under the clutter in Doogie's room:
• "There's a Riot Going On"
• "Look Ma, No Pants"
• "Doogie Got a Gun"
• "Doogie Doesn't Live Here Anymore"
• "The Patient in Spite of Himself"
• "To Err is Human, to Give Up Isn't a Bad Idea"
• "Doogie, Can You Hear Me?"
• "Nothing Compares 2 U"
• "Do the Right Thing…If You Can Figure Out What It
• "The Big Sleep…Not"
• "Will The Real Dr. Howser Please Stand Up?"
• "The Mother of All Fishing Trips"
• "Roommate with a View"
• "Spell it 'M-A-N'"
• "It's a Tough Job…But Why Does My Father Have To Do
• "The Adventures of Sherlock Howser"
• "Love Means Constantly Having to Say You're Sorry"
• "You've Come a Long Way, Babysitter"
• "Love Makes the World Go 'Round…Or Is It
• "Dorky Housecall, M.D."
• "Eleven Angry People…And Vinnie"
• "What Makes Doogie Run"
Tracking the course of the series so far, season one was a quirky comedy, season two was a bland comedy, season three was a quirky drama, and, now, season four comes across as a mix of the previous three. Some of the comedy episodes are cute and amusing, while some fall back on predictable sitcom clichés. Other episodes take life seriously, especially when dealing with dating and relationships.
By this point, the series pretty much belongs to Doogie and Vinnie. All the other characters are more or less in the background this season. Neil Patrick Harris remains natural and likeable in the role, even if he looks completely different from when the show started—not to mention twice as tall. Max Casella continues to jump into the role with enthusiasm. Vinnie is often played for cheap, slapsticky gags, but Casella manages to give the character some dignity when needed.
With his girlfriend Wanda (Lisa Dean Ryan, Dead at 21) no longer a part of the show, this freed up the writers to have Doogie explore relationships with other girls. So in this season, a whole bunch of ladies enter and exit his life, revolving-door style. There's the nudity-prone model roommate, the deaf girl with the positive attitude, his mom's sexy boss, a dog-loving nurse, and, somewhat oddly, his childhood babysitter. Doogie's main on-again-off-again this season, though, is Michele Faber (Robyn Lively, Twin Peaks), yet another nurse, who involves Doogie in an "okay to see other people" relationship, and all the complications that come with it.
So this season is light and charming, but far from perfect. Like many bland sitcoms before it, scripts here tend to fall back on simplistic moralizing. The season opens with a bang, as Doogie goes into crisis mode at the hospital on the night of the Rodney King riots. Now, given that this series was overseen by Stephen Bochco, who dealt with racial issues on occasion rather well on his other series NYPD Blue, one would expect a more meaningful take on the issue. Instead, all the episode has to offer is a generic "racism is bad" moral, with too much time spent on screwball comedy business such as Vinnie babysitting some kids while doctors treat their day care provider. The potential existed here for a moving, powerful mini-epic, but it was squandered.
Picture and audio here are good; especially considering the series is more than 10 years old. Colors and bright and vivid, and the audio shows no immediate flaws, really coming to life during the few musical sequences. Pressman and Lang return for two brand new interviews, offering their perspective on the series. Both come across as funny and easy-going, making these interviews a real treat. In a previous review, I bemoaned how there were no chapter stops in episodes, making it impossible to skip the electronic keyboard theme song when watching several in a row. Well, this time, the theme is separated with a chapter stop. Thanks, Anchor Bay!
If you're new to Doogie Howser, M.D., this fourth season set is not the place to begin. That would be the first season. Although the novelty of a teen doctor wore off after that first year, some nice character work by the writers and the actors' enthusiasm kept things interesting enough for another three seasons. Now that the whole thing is on DVD, I'd say Doogie's journey growing up is a trip worth taking, even if there are a few slow spots along the way.
It might not have been the best TV series ever created, but it's certainly one of the most unique. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Interviews with Stars Lawrence Pressman and Kathryn Lang
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