“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
(CSB – Read the chapter)
My family enjoys watching TV together. We love having a show we can all get into and look forward to watching each new episode. A new season of a show on Disney called The Secret of Sulfur Springs premieres today on Disney+. We’ve been looking forward to it for months and months since the last season ended on a major cliffhanger. Just a few weeks ago we finished watching National Treasure: The Edge of History. Well-done series that are family friendly are a treat we all enjoy. Just last week we finally finished another that has taken me a while to decide if I liked it or not. I did an initial review (here) about midway through the first season about a year and a half ago, but having now finished it and with its second season on the way in a few weeks, here are a few more thoughts. Today let’s talk about the good and the bad of Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.
With the exception of The Secret of Sulfur Springs which originally premiered on The Disney Channel, pretty much everything family-oriented on Disney+ has been a remake or relaunch or rebranding of some property that was around when I was growing up. The studio execs understand who’s paying the bill for the service, and the writers must be mostly from my generation. This doesn’t mean the content hasn’t still been enjoyable—it nearly uniformly has been—but none of it is new.
Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. fits perfectly in this vein. The show is a rebranding of the late-80s/early-90s sitcom starring Neil Patrick Harris who plays a super smart teenage doctor. The new version features a teenage girl named Lahela Kamealoha. As you might have guessed from her name, Lahela is Hawaiian. Well, she’s half Hawaiian. Her father, Benny, is Hawaiian, while her mother, Clara (who is also a doctor), is from Philadelphia. Two brothers, one on either side of Lahela, round out the family of five.
The first season took viewers through a variety of adventures of the whole family as they navigate the challenges of having a sixteen-year-old prodigy who happens to be a medical resident under the supervision of her mom at the local hospital. The writers actually do a pretty good job of balancing the screen time of all five members of the family while never losing sight of whose name is the title of the series.
Having finished the first season and with a few days to reflect on it, I am coming to appreciate it more and more. I’m actually looking forward to the upcoming second season. I would even give it a qualified endorsement as worth your time if you are looking for something your own family can enjoy watching together.
Let’s talk about why my recommendation is only a qualified one, and then we’ll get to what I really did like. To put it rather plainly, I can’t give this series the full-throated recommendation I might otherwise because it is a modern show created by Disney. Disney as a corporation is so focused on pushing a cultural narrative with its media content right now (well, they do it at every level of their organization, but they are especially focused on doing it through their media content), that a family whose values are shaped by the Christian worldview isn’t going to be able to engage with their any of content without finding at least something objectionable.
As a parent, if my 16-year-old had the kind of work colleagues who had such a prime opportunity to shape her moral worldview framework at such a critical juncture of her growth and development as Lahela does, I would be absolutely horrified. The two other residents with whom she works each day are a woman who brings a cynical outlook to everything, but especially relationships, and several times encouraged Lahela in directions other than her parents want her to go. The other is an openly gay man who talks regularly about his relationships. The other attending physician who works with her mom is a playboy narcissist who openly objectifies his female colleagues.
The series adds a variety of other little elements to subtly push a moral worldview that I not only disagree with, but which I had to actively intervene, sometimes to the point of pausing an episode to offer a direct worldview counter with my boys. One character in a later episode was a nurse who was pregnant. Nothing wrong with that. But then Lahela’s parents are invited to her baby shower where she introduces them to her wife. It is all simply presented as a matter of course, as if it were completely normal.
Lahela’s major love interest is a young man who actually is exactly the kind of guy I would be okay with my 16-year-old daughter dating if I had one. He’s polite, respectful, considerate, well-connected to his family (although, interestingly, while we see lots of his family including a variety of aunties, we are never actually introduced to his parents), and willing to sacrifice his wants and desires to engage with hers. He also actively encourages her to honor her own family. Again, nothing wrong with any of this. I hope my own boys were paying attention to how he treated her.
The way the show presented their relationship, however, was beyond where two 16-year-olds should be. While there was never any indication they were sexually actively at all, they spoke in terms more appropriate for two kids in their twenties on track for marriage.
And the major point of drama was their plans to have Lahela join him on a summer pro-surfing tour in Australia as the tour’s medic where they would be living together in a small camper as they traveled along the coast making stops at various competition sites. What could go wrong? When her parents rightly and wisely nixed that, she tried to go all Little Mermaid on them and secretly defy them because since she’s a doctor and making her own money, she should be able to act like an adult. Yet while she did finally wind up backing down from this of her own accord, her decision had nothing to do with honoring her parents, but rather her realizing that she would miss being a doctor too much to give up even two months of it. Her mom subsequently told her that she was right about being an adult and that she was allowed to go.
In other words, it’s totally okay to defy your parents in order to follow your heart, and everything will work out well in the end. Not only is that not how the world really works, it is an open rejection of Paul’s teaching here. It was perhaps this angle of the show even more than the open embrace of homosexuality that gave me heartburn while watching it. These are lessons I rather passionately don’t want my boys to learn.
That all being said, I would nonetheless recommend this series because of Lahela’s family. The picture the writers created of her family is really good. Benny and Clara have a really healthy marriage. While they do have some conflict in the series, they resolve it in healthy ways. They are committed to one another and committed to raising their children to be kind and considerate of others. The family regularly eats meals together (which is a research-backed secret recipe for family success that far too few practice regularly these days). They are connected to the generations before them as well through Benny’s uncle. While they occasionally make decisions I don’t agree with (like ultimately giving Lahela permission to go to Australia), they expect their children to respect them and each other.
This positive picture of family is good enough that it’s worth having even in spite of the parts that will require extra explanations for Christian parents to have with their kids. Still, though, this is probably not a show for kids who aren’t at least in middle school. With Disney these days, I wouldn’t expect any less. The great irony to me is that they keep featuring solidly biblical pictures of family and removing any trace of the Christian worldview from them. They want the benefits of the worldview without actually maintaining the worldview. A flower cut from its roots, though, will only be pretty for so long before it withers and dies.
This is something our culture doesn’t understand, but is going to learn sooner rather than later. It wants the fruits of the Christian worldview without actually embracing the worldview foundations in which they grow. Those things, however, do not grow in a secular or even a non-Christian soil. Cut from their source, they won’t last forever. We need to be sure we show the world the benefits of doing life God’s way by actually doing life God’s way and enjoying them. But we need to make sure that when we do, we let them know where they come from and that they don’t come from anywhere else. Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. tries to claim they can come from just anywhere, but in doing so it is offering up a false picture. It may be a pretty one at times, but in giving viewers a goal without a path, it does not serve them well. Enjoy watching it, but make sure to not forget the path.