'Doogie Howser' gets a modern reimagining

KAREN NEAL/Disney/Tribune News Service

From left are Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Mapuana Makia in a scene from "Doogie Kamealoha, M.D."

Peyton Elizabeth Lee doesn’t know how to perform surgery, but she knows a little something about growing up in an adult world.

The 17-year-old actress spent three of her most formative teenage years, from 2017 to 2019, on the Disney Channel’s American family comedy-drama “Andi Mack.” Now, she’s traded that all in for a pair of scrubs as a teen doctor on “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.,” a modern reimagining of Neil Patrick Harris’ beloved “Doogie Howser” that premiered last week on Disney+.

“Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenage doctor, but being a teenage actor, I do feel like I have a pretty unique experience with growing up in a professional environment and being a young person in an environment dominated by adults," Lee said. "With that comes a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations and responsibilities.

“There are also really incredible parts about it, too," she said. "But navigating that and being a kid and also being an adult in a sense and ... finding yourself somewhere in the middle is something I have a lot of experience with, and something Lahela is experiencing as the show progresses.”

Lahela Kamealoha, who earned the “Doogie” nickname from colleagues at the hospital, balances a split life much like her namesake: During the day, she works; at night, she plays. They kept the computer, too, but she posts on TikTok instead. But unlike Doogie, who called Los Angeles home, Lahela bikes to work through the streets of Hawaii, then home again to her father (Jason Scott Lee), who catches octopus with his bare hands; her mother (Kathleen Rose Perkins), who’s also her boss; and two brothers. She hires a ukulele singer for a special evening, and she wears a lei to her first dance.

She has a crush and a best friend. At times, she’s totally normal, or as normal as a teenage girl can be. And at times, she’s a wunderkind.

“It was really fun getting to balance those two sides to her and also figure out when the professional side of her crosses into her teenage life and when her being a teenager crosses into the hospital,” Lee said. “You get these little reminders that she’s still a kid and then these little reminders that she’s a doctor, and (we’re) constantly playing with the ebb and flow of that dynamic and that internal juxtaposition.”

The teenage Lahela felt natural for Lee, but to play a doctor, she took great care, looking up the procedures herself and working with a real doctor on set to make sure it looked right.

More than its magnificent Hawaiian vistas, what makes “Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.” special for Lee is the joy of showing Lahela “being biracial and that journey of self-discovery.”

“The difference between the experience of a white boy growing up and an ethnic girl growing up is so (huge),” she said. “Even though we set it in the same situation of being a teenage doctor, the perspective and the experiences are so different because of the inherent differences of the two protagonists.”

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