“Actually, I have a job. I’m a doctor.”
TV producer Steven Bochco has created some great programs over the years, notably gritty cop dramas like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, as well as intense legal dramas such as LA Law and Murder One. But he also introduced viewers to a couple of genuine oddities, like the short-lived Cop Rock, in which drug dealers broke out into sing and dance numbers upon being arrested. Far more successful was Doogie Howser, MD, based on the unlikely premise of a child genius turned teenage doctor. After a whirlwind first season of combined medical drama and teen comedy, the series became a hit and lasted for four seasons. Anchor Bay just prescribed all 25 episodes of the second season on DVD for you.
At age 17, Dr. Douglas “Doogie” Howser (Neil Patrick Harris, Undercover Brother) is now a third-year resident at a California hospital. On the one hand, he lives a normal teenage life, hanging out with his sleazy best friend Vinnie (Max Casella, Ed Wood), his girlfriend Wanda (Lisa Dean Ryan, Dead at 21), and his parents David (James B. Sikking, Hill Street Blues) and Katherine (Belinda Montgomery, Days of Our Lives). On the other, it’s all business at the hospital as Doogie saves lives with the help of Nurse Curly Spaulding (Kathryn Lang, The Marrying Man), his demanding boss Dr. Canfield (Laurence Pressman, American Pie), and Dr. Jack Maguire (Mitchell Anderson, Jaws: The Revenge), who gets even less screen time this season than he did in the last.
There are a few new faces in the regular cast this time around. Janine (Lucy Boryer, Sleepwalkers) is Vinnie’s incredibly patient girlfriend. Raymond (Markus Redmond, Fight Club), is a reformed gang-banger who gets a job as an orderly, thanks to Doogie’s help. Dr. Ron Welch (Rif Hutton, Single White Female 2: The Psycho) is another friend of Doogie’s at the hospital, who competes with Maguire in the “smallest amount of screen time” Olympics.
Quickly, doctor, the patient needs an episode list:
While talking to a psychologist, Doogie reveals that he’s spending so much time working, and that he’s afraid of missing out on his youth. He’s also having James Whale-inspired dream sequences.
• “Guess Who’s Coming to Doogie’s”
Raymond, the gang member who held Doogie and Vinnie hostage in a convenience store last year, has had a change of heart and comes to Doogie for a job. Doogie wants to help, but not until they both face the prejudices of others.
• “Ask Dr. Doogie”
Canfield enlists Doogie to appear in some jazzed-up public service announcements on “The Music Channel,” turning him into a national celebrity. Too bad fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
• “C’est La Vinnie”
Vinnie ends up trapped in a stuck elevator with his pregnant French teacher. You can pretty much guess where the plot goes from there.
• “Car Wars”
Doogie and Vinnie come up with an elaborate plan to convince Doogie’s dad to let him buy a classic 1950s car.
• “Doogie Sings the Blues”
An aging blues singer wants one last gig the night before a big operation. Doogie says it’d be too risky, but Vinnie and Raymond have other plans.
• “Academia Nuts”
In a story about honesty and dishonesty, Vinnie is tempted to steal one of Doogie’s old biology papers to pass off as his own, while Doogie has to come up with a fake diagnosis for a hypochondriac so the hospital can receive a grant.
• “Revenge of the Teenage Dead”
While spending the weekend with a fellow child genius, Doogie worries that boy is missing out on the fun of youth, so he casts the kid in Vinnie’s homemade slasher movie.
• “Nautilus For Naught”
After seeing Wanda’s possible flirting with a male model, Doogie and Vinnie hit the gym in hopes of shaping up their image.
• “Don’t Let the Turkeys Get Down”
A visit from Doogie’s grandparents on Thanksgiving reveals that they’ve never been happy with David and Katherine’s marriage. Meanwhile, Vinnie learns Janine’s parents are trying to split them up as well.
• “Oh Very Young”
Age discrimination is the issue this time around, when a renowned surgeon refuses to work with Doogie because of his age, while Canfield and Curly have to put up with gossip galore after they start a romance.
• “TV or Not TV”
When the president of a major TV network ends up in the hospital, everyone comes to him pitching series ideas, but all Vinnie wants from the guy is a letter of recommendation for film school.
• “A Woman Too Far”
A hot blonde nursing student shows some interest in Doogie, and he wonders if he can pursue a romance with her without Wanda finding out about it.
• “Presumed Guilty”
Doogie and Vinnie lie to Doogie’s dad after an accident trashes the car, but can they get away with hiding the truth?
• “To Live and Die in Brentwood”
Doogie’s relationship with Wanda hits another barricade when she shuts him out of her life after she experiences a death in her family.
• “Air Doogie”
Wanting to be considered an equal among his professional peers, Doogie joins the hospital’s basketball team. But can he play with the big boys?
• “A Life in Progress”
An artist painting a mural for the hospital charms everyone with his positive attitude, but when everyone learns he has AIDS, perceptions are challenged and prejudices come to the forefront.
• “My Two Dads”
Vinnie causes strife when he decides to tag along with Doogie and his dad on their annual father-son camping trip.
• “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition”
Another visit from Doogie’s interfering grandparents halts the renovation of the Howser family’s kitchen. It gets worse when Grandpa makes Doogie his new partner on the project.
• “Fatal Distraction”
As Wanda faces more and more responsibilities in her life, she gives Doogie the OK to take another girl to the hospital’s annual “Casino Night.”
• “The Doctor, The Wife, Her Son, and The Job”
When Doogie’s mom gets a job at the hospital, it disrupts both halves of Doogie’s double life, both at work and at home.
• “Planet of the Dateless”
Maguire finally gets more than one line in an episode, when he reveals his frustration about living under Doogie’s shadow, and how he wants to make a bigger difference in lives of patients.
• “Doogie’s Wager”
With his senior year of high school winding down, Vinnie is beside himself with anticipation about whether or not he’ll get accepted to the film school of his choice.
• “A Kiss Ain’t Just a Kiss”
Doogie and Janine both face relationship woes. Meanwhile, Raymond has a run-in with his estranged father at the hospital.
• “Dances with Wanda”
Although they’ve drifted apart by this time, Doogie decides to ask her to her prom as one last date before she heads off to college. But a young girl at the hospital in need of a heart transplant might complicate the evening.
During the first season, the writers, actors and directors all pushed themselves to make the ludicrous idea of a teen doctor believable. They really stretched themselves to find ways to combine the typical high school hijinks with the usual hospital life-saving drama. By the time this season rolled around, though, it seems everyone had settled in, and gotten used to the concept. This attitude opened the door for less creative scripts. Scenes at the hospital come across as more ordinary, as though they could be taken from any regular hospital show. We see Doogie standing up for patients and learning valuable life lessons from them. These stories, however, could be told with any doctor character, not just a hormonal teenage one. As far as comedy is concerned, the writers fell back on standard sitcom plots. A bunch of comedy clichés get hauled out in front of audiences here. Trapped in an elevator with a pregnant woman? Check. Wrecking the car and going to great lengths to make sure dad doesn’t find out? Check. Mistaken identity leads to romantic jealousy? Check. It’s all the same old thing we’ve seen a dozen times over.
Fortunately, the actors do the best with what they’ve been given. Harris is earnest as always as the title character, whether he’s called on to be humorous or heartbroken. Casella downplays his constant horniness this season, showing a bit more of Vinnie’s human side. Sikking and Montgomery aren’t given much to do this season, and their characters are written as even more dull and conservative than before. The writers take a far too simplistic approach with the other characters. Wanda and Janine’s only roles here are to be “the girlfriends,” with too little character development for most of the season. The real surprise, acting-wise, is Pressman as Dr. Canfield, who drops the villainous boss shtick and instead lightens up and brings out the character’s fun side.
If the show has lost its edge, then, is there anything here worth recommending? For Doogie’s fan base, those who remember it from back when, it’s great to have the entire season on disc. The fans who discovered the show recently will be curious to see where the characters’ lives go, and what changes and adventures they’ve gone through during this year.
For an ’80s nostalgia-item series, the picture quality on this four-disc set is a significant improvement over the first season set, with none of that one’s occasional edge enhancement. The audio has also been improved. Although the show is mostly dialogue, with a cringe-inducing electronic keyboard score, the classical music scene in “A Life In Progress” sounds excellent, showing that the audio is better than it seems. The only extras are two amusing but brief interviews with Harris and Casella, and a written trivia quiz on the inside of the packaging.
Doogie Howser, MD is still cheesy fun, but it’s lost something this season. A lot of what made the show unique is gone, replaced with the ordinary.