Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Dr Ken's prescription for laughs

Reviews say otherwise, but Ken Jeong believes his new sitcom is the funniest show on television. He tells Chris Schulz why.
Ken Jeong appears to be living in some sort of bubble. Photo / Supplied
Ken Jeong appears to be living in some sort of bubble. Photo / Supplied

Ken Jeong appears to be living in some sort of bubble.

"I'm calling you from my office. I just left a writing session, and as soon as I finish this interview I'm going to the edit bay," he says. "If I've gotta stay here all night, I will."

The reason Jeong is putting in "24/7" hours is Dr Ken, the livewire comic's first lead sitcom role, which mines Jeong's pre-comedy career as a real-life doctor for laughs. Unfortunately, critics say his show, which screens in primetime on TV2 here, has precious few of those.

"It's just dreadfully unfunny," wrote one critic for Slate. "It's crass and phony," said New York Magazine. The New York Times called it "relentlessly mediocre".

TimeOut's own reviewer, Rebecca Barry Hill, singled Jeong out for criticism, saying "his wacky shtick jars with the cosy, dull, sitcom fare we've seen a million times".

Despite the reviews, ratings have been good, and network ABC has ordered a full season of 22 episodes.

In response to the negativity, Jeong does what he does best on screen: he laughs it off. "You can't not read those, but you soldier on. It doesn't affect me. I don't do things to please critics, I do things because I want to entertain. Some of the criticism was fair and some of it was incredibly stupid," he says. "You've gotta have confidence in what you do and you've gotta soldier on."

Besides, Jeong has serious comedy credentials, thanks to his antics as drug-addled gangster Leslie Chow in The Hangover trilogy, as well as his recurring role on cult TV hit Community.

He says negative reviews are based on the show's pilot, and believes that by episode 21, Dr Ken has evolved into "the funniest multi-camera sitcom on television".

"Honestly, critics will hate most pilots. It's extremely hard - you want to show how funny a show is, but you also have to introduce all the characters. The pilot is often the weakest one.

"The episodes we have now are just amazing - I can't wait for you to see them, you'll see what I'm talking about."

Early episodes were based on Jeong's time as a physician at a Health Maintenance Organisation (HMO) office in Los Angeles, with Jeong playing Dr Ken Park, a physician with a unique bedside manner who is trying to balance his home life with his work.

Jeong says he initially imagined the show along the lines of The Office, with the characters and their relationship becoming more important than the setting. But Dr Ken has since developed "its own universe and tone".

"Maybe my life was a trampoline for that. but now all those ingredients that sprung from that trampoline are in the air and of its own ether," he says. "If you watch any of the [latest] episodes I'm so proud." But time is short for Jeong, who, like his character, is also balancing family time with the demands of creating a season of comedy. He needs to get back to that edit bay. "Some days are easy, some days are long," he sighs. "It's just like starting up your own business, you have to be there from the time you open to the time you close."

What: Ken Jeong in Dr Ken
Where and when: Wednesdays, TV2, 7.30pm

- TimeOut

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