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Doogie Howser, M.D. -- Season Two

Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // September 6, 2005
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Scott Weinberg | posted September 26, 2005 | E-mail the Author
On the surface it sounds exactly like your (very) standard three-camera, set-bound, and monumentally conventional sitcom premise:

"It's about a teenaged mega-genius who's already a doctor!"

In the hands of most television producers, this concept would be homogenized, broadened, and laugh-tracked to death in less than two seasons before being canceled to make way for a sitcom about "the world's youngest female astronaut" -- or something even stupider.

But Doogie Howser, M.D., which debuted in 1989 and enjoyed four popular seasons on ABC, was the brainchild of two heavy hitters. Steven Bochco, fresh of the smash successes of Hill Street Blues & L.A. Law, and David E. Kelley, the man who'd go on to create Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, and Bostons both Public & Legal, obviously wanted the stretch the sitcom parameters.

And while Doogie Howser, M.D. often falls prey to the most standard sort of sitcom potholes, it still stands out among its peers for a handful of enjoyable reasons:

Neil Patrick Harris. Clever kid in a tough spot, because it would have been so easy for Dr. Doogie to become an insufferable little snot. Thanks to some clever writing and the young Mr. Harris' winning screen presence, Dr. Howser went from an unlikely gimmick to an actual character. Toss in a consistently colorful sidekick in Max Casella's Vinnie, and you'll be able to overlook the general blandness that pervades the rest of the supporting cast.

No laugh track! Those of us who presently adore "sitcoms" like The Office, Arrested Development, and Scrubs are well aware of how blissful the lack of a laugh-track can be, but Doogie was created back in 1989, which was the tail-end of a monumentally standard sitcom wave. Bochco probably had to fight pretty hard to keep the perpetually annoying laugh-track off of this series, but it was a battle worth fighting. The absence of a laugh-track allows you to enjoy the quieter chuckles without feeling like Pavlov's dog ... and hey, maybe this particular episode isn't laden with laughs, which means we can just enjoy the characters and, y'know, the stories.

The last factor is a biggie: Clever writing. While it's true that Doogie is often beholden to some of the most familiar tropes and plot constructions in the sitcom handbook, there's also an appreciable amount of quiet wit, unpredictability, and poignancy to the young doctor's many adventures. Because let's face it; "Teenage Doctor Sitcom" would grow whiskers in less than a month if it was focused on nothing but broad and obvious laughs. Doogie Howser, however, knows that character is the key, which explains why we actually give a damn about the main kid. The "Doogie the Doctor" angle is all fine and good, but this series is at its best when it just deals with "Doogie the Teenager."

Disc inventories follow, with plot synopses borrowed from the DVD cases. (It's a four-disc set that comes in two of those skinny digi-pack cases and a slipcover.)

Disc 1

1. Doogenstein -- Doogie starts his third year of residency worrying that he's becoming too busy with work to enjoy his youth. (Original airdate: 9/12/90)

2. Guess Who's Coming to Doogie's -- Former gang member Raymond Alexander begins working at the hospital, but his past comes back to haunt him when a patient's watch is reported missing. (9/19/90)

3. Ask Dr. Doogie -- Doogie has to wear disguises after his "Ask Dr. Doogie" public-service ads on the music channel make him a little too famous. (9/26/90)

4. C'est La Vinnie -- Vinnie gets stuck in an elevator with his French teacher, who just happens to be pregnant. (10/3/90)

5. Car Wars -- Doogie's dad refuses to let him buy a classic car; a frightened mentally handicapped patient turns down lifesaving treatment. (10/10/90)

6. Doogie Sings the Blues -- A once-popular singers wants to make a comeback, but there's one problem: Doogie has to schedule him for surgery. (10/17/90)

7. Academia Nuts -- Vinnie asks to "borrow" one of Doogie's old biology papers. Doogie is forced to make up an illness for a wealthy hypochondriac. (10/24/90)

Disc 2

8. Revenge of the Teenage Dead -- Vinnie asks a med-school applicant to be the star of his zombie slasher movie. (10/31/90)

9. Nautilus for Naught -- A hospitalized model and Doogie end up bonding over the fact that both are being judged by their physical appearance. (11/7/90)

10. Don't Let the Turkeys Get You Down -- Thanksgiving is a difficult day for Vinnie, who has just been dumped by Janine. (11/14/90)

11. Oh Very Young -- Doogie doesn't believe in May-December romance, until he finds age discrimination aimed at himself by a professor. (11/28/90)

12. TV or Not TV -- Vinnie assists a hospitalized network executive in order to earn a letter of recommendation for film school. (12/5/90)

13. A Woman Too Far -- Doogie treats a patient with two wives and begins to contemplate cheating on Wanda to date a nursing student. (12/12/90)

14. Presumed Guilty -- Doogie encourages a basketball star to face up to his debilitating condition. (1/2/91)

Disc 3

15. To Live and Die in Brentwood -- Wanda wants to be left alone after a death in the family, and Doogie feels helpless when she won't open up to him. (1/9/91)

16. Air Doogie -- Dr. J inspires Dr. Doogie when Eastman tips off against a rival hospital in a basketball game. (1/23/91)

17. A Life in Progress -- Vinnie is present with his video camera when the hospital cancels a mural project run by an artist with AIDS. (1/30/91)

18. My Two Dads -- Unable to get close to his own father, Vinnie accompanies the Howser men on their annual father-son camping trip. (2/6/91)

19. Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition -- Doogie makes light of Grandpa Don's tales of Irish life, but one particular story may shed light on Doogie's research. (2/13/91)

20. Fatal Distraction -- Wanda gives Doogie the green light to take someone else to the hospital's Monte Carlo night. (2/20/91)

21. The Doctor, the Wife, Her Son, and the Job -- Doogie is embarrassed when his mom gets a job at the hospital, which also causes disruptions at home. (3/13/91)

Disc 4

22. Planet of the Dateless -- McGuire, after volunteering in Mexico, wants to make a difference, but his specialty seems to be attracting women. (3/20/91)

23. Doogie's Wager -- Doogie pushes for the survival of a premature baby; Vinnie pushes for acceptance into film school. (4/3/91)

24. A Kiss Ain't Just a Kiss -- Janine and Doogie play the kissing game; Raymond refuses to assist an ER patient - his absentee father. (4/24/91)

25. Dances with Wanda -- Doogie invites Wanda to her prom, and soon discovers that she is overwhelmed with doubts about her future. (5/1/91)


Video: The episodes are presented in their original Fullframe format, complete with a fuzzy lack of sharpness, and a general blandness within the color scheme. Still, the episodes look fine enough to enjoy the show ... and a lot better than they'd look on syndicated reruns.

Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which is perfectly adequate, if nothing too spectacular.

Extras: On disc 4 you'll find the 9-minute Neil Patrick Harris: Remembering the Cast, in which the now-grown-up Doogie looks back and says very nice things about all of his old castmates. There's also a 14-minute Max Casella Interview, which is a bit more entertaining than Harris' love-fest, and a collection of trailers for Anchor Bay's upcoming Titus and Profit sets.

Final Thoughts

Sure, sure, Doogie's second season features the "stuck in an elevator with a pregnant woman" gag and several of the more familiar sitcom story-lines, but it's also infused with lots of surprisingly witty banter, some real chemistry between two affable leads, and some sincere warmth and occasional insight. It's not high art, but it's a heckuva lot better than what generally passes for your average weeknight sitcom.

Plus that Casella kid just makes me laugh. A lot.

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