The title character in Disney+’s new “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.” (shown hee) keeps juggling worlds.
She’s a teen-ager, feeling her first romantic crush; she’s also a doctor. Her roots are Hawaiian/Asian on her father’s side, Irish or Scottish on her mom’s. She’s surfing one moment, saving lives the next.
There’s a crowd inhabiting her psyche … but that seems to fit Peyton Elizabeth Lee, who plays her.
Lee, 17, is half-Chinese, on her father’s side – the same as Lahela (nicknamed “Doogie”) in the show … and similar to Kourtney Kang, the show’s creator, who is half-Korean.
Fresh from starring in the “Andi Mack” series, Lee is multi-coastal – born in New York, raised in Manhattan Beach, Cal., now working in Hawaii – and cozy with the water world. “My family loves the ocean,” she said in a virtual press conference with the Television Critics Association. “My dad’s a big surfer; my brother’s a big surfer.”
And what about mastering the doctor part? “There was a lot of Googling and a lot of YouTube-ing and a lot of WebMD-ing …. It wasn’t just about memorizing these medical monologues, but (understanding) what all these words meant.”
She mastered that, said Kathleen Rose Perkins, who plays her mother, also a doctor. “It was so annoying how good she was at saying this stuff.”
The show (debuting Wednesday, Sept. 8, and continuing weekly) began when ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” ended. Producer Melvin Mar says he looked for “another show we can do that featured an Asian-American lead.” The studio suggested rebooting “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” (1989-93) and pointed him toward Dayna Bochco, the widow of co-creator Steven Bochco.
Mar turned to Kourtney Kang, a long-time “Fresh Off the Boat” and “How I Met Your Mother” writer-producer. “I grew up watching (‘Doogie’),” she said. “I was a huge fan of it.”
She’s also a grad of Carnegie Mellon, a school that keeps talking about Bochco. A Carnegie Mellon alumnus, he drew raves for “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and many more. “He is a big reason why television is set up in a way that most supports writers,” Kang said.
Bochco – who died of leukemia in 2018, at 73 – approved of the reboot idea, said his son, producer-director Jesse Bochco. “He was never one to reboot himself …. But he said, ‘You’ve got to do these.’ He said, ‘You have something here and they’re yours, so go do it.’”
An “L.A. Law” reboot is in the works and “Doogie” moved ahead, adding Kang’s spin: It’s set nowadays, many of the characters saw “Doogie Howser,” so they dub their own teen doctor “Doogie.”
She moves between the life-and-death world of her mother and the sunny, surfing world of her dad — played by Jason Scott Lee, the long-ago star of Disney’s live-action “Jungle Book.”
Kang retained a few things from the original – the opening scene of a driver’s test interrupted by a medical emergency … the notion of a friend crawling through the bedroom window … and the song.
“Even in the pitch,” Kang recalled, “we said: ‘And the theme song for the show is going to be the original … except played on a ukulele.’”
That’s played by uke master Jake Shimabukuro. You don’t usually find him doing TV theme songs … but then again, you don’t usually find shows about teen-aged surfing doctors.