5 Things About: Doogie Howser, M.D.
Why Doogie? Because the parody at the end of How I Met Your Mother a while back, plus a desire to wander through hulu.com. So I watched the Doogie pilot from 1989. And now I'm writing about it.
I was really not expecting the show to hold up at all. It's actually a pretty solid piece of late 80's TV, despite the cheesy theme music and classic 80's opening sequence.
It's still possibly the most absurd premise that a TV show ever expected the public to take seriously. In the pilot, they work around that through an exceptionally well-crafted script combined with Neil Patrick Harris' talent and likability as Doogie.
I remembered it as just a Stephen Bochco show, but it's actually Bochco and David E. Kelley. Kelley's name wouldn't have meant anything to me at the time, but in retrospect his involvement makes so much sense, it's exactly the kind of quirky drama he would become known for.
Let's take this as a writing challenge. You have one opening scene to make this ridiculous premise believable. Your hero needs to be smart enough for the audience to buy him as a doctor, but not so nerdy or arrogant that it's off-putting. Again, you have one scene. First scene of the pilot: Doogie is taking his driving road test, his mom is in the back seat, and he's clearly nervous and tentative. Until they see an accident on the roadside -- Doogie suddenly is in total control, parking, running up to the accident, ordering cops around and saving a guy's leg. That's the whole show, right there. Corny? A little bit, although Harris' performance blunts that. Effective? Yep.
Another nicely done bit: later, Doogie has the inevitable conflict with an older doctor who thinks he's a smart-ass young whippersnapper. My eyes rolled in anticipation of some scenery chewing, but actually the scene ends pretty quickly from there. The dilemma at this point is: if Doogie is right, then he comes off as kind of an insufferable know-it-all, if he's wrong, it's harder to take him seriously as a doctor. The writers opt for door number three -- events overtake the patient without proving Doogie right or wrong, he has a brief, nice scene with the older doctor, and the potential conflicts about his age are established without being nailed into our heads.
I'm about 100% sure, based on my own memory, that the scripts weren't always this good, but still, the pilot is pretty good.