For a Gen X teen, there are two TV parents who loom larger than any others: Jim and Cindy Walsh of . But if I were forced to choose a successor couple for the 2020s, Benny and Clara would be in the conversation.
Clara is a high-powered senior member of her hospital’s staff, but Benny never gives any indication that he feels threatened or diminished by her success; we find out early on that Benny already had a big job of his own, and stepped back from his career in finance to spend his time closer to home.
Is Benny’s supportiveness maybe all it takes to get me loudly rooting for his relationship with Clara, and am I being manipulated by the show’s writers? Maybe, but also, I don’t care, and neither does series creator Kourtney Kang, who cheerfully admits that some aspects of the show are idealized, telling Collider: “[T]he writing staff is predominantly women and there are a lot of moms on staff. We would laugh in the writers’ room that every episode is about how [Clara] has a problem or Lahela has a problem, and then the super-attractive Benny or [Lahela’s boyfriend] Walter [Alex Aiono] is like, ‘Tell me everything. How can I best support you and your career?’ That’s the show we’re doing. It’s our turn now.”
Jason Scott Lee expressed similar sentiments when we spoke last week “I think anybody who really is married will know that this is quite a fantasy,” he said. “[There’s] a tone of the show that we have to maintain.”
When it comes to Clara and Benny’s parenting, the show lets itself get a little messier. This is particularly true of their relationship with Lahela: when the child in question is a genius working full-time as a doctor, but is also a minor, the parent-child boundaries can get blurry.
At the same time, Benny and Clara are mindful of not making their non-genius sons feel like afterthoughts in the family, possibly to a fault. In one Season 1 episode, for example, Lahela struggles to convince Clara to let her drive Steph to Starbucks, while Kai talks his way into getting an old scooter from a neighbor. After he fixes it up, he boasts that he’s “like a doctor, but for scooters,” and gets absolutely no pushback from his parents—including the one who’s a doctor, but for people.
Another plot that runs through multiple episodes is Clara’s worry that distance is growing between herself and Lahela. As a super-smart kid who never had a conventional school experience, Lahela has spent a lot of time with her mother, and they’ve bonded over their shared professional calling. On top of that, they have fun doing things like developing their own skin care serums and making goofy TikToks together. These scenes might be the easiest for Perkins to play since, as Lee notes, she’s only a parent onscreen. “She’ll say, ‘I’m getting all these mom roles, and I’m not a mom,’” Lee told me. “So she kind of bounces off of me a bit. ‘What would you do at this point?’”
However, treating Lahela like her best friend (we don’t really see Clara hanging out with any pals her own age) confuses both their familial and professional relationships: Clara finds it difficult to assert her authority with Lahela at home, and naturally gets more involved in Lahela’s career decisions (whether to take a prestigious fellowship, or to work temporarily as a medic on Walter’s surfing tour in Australia) than she does with the other residents in Lahela’s class.
Still, though Clara may lack the certainty of her TV forebear Cindy Walsh, she continues mom-ing like a Gen Xer. Without really spoiling a Season 2 episode called “I’m Just A Mom,” I’ll say that a particular No Doubt song creates an indelible moment between Clara and Lahela. If Gen X parents tend to helicopter-parent in reaction to their own parents’ laissez-faire attitudes, which were the style at the time, it stands to reason both that Clara—and, to a lesser extent, Benny—don’t know how to bring their helicopters in for a landing, as it were, and gracefully let their children detach.
Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. is a far more thoughtful dramedy than you might expect if your primary exposure to Disney Channel sitcoms is screamy multi-cams like The Suite Life Of Zack & Cody. Family conflict is frequently settled on surfboards in the Pacific, or on a home zip line at the Kamealohas’ beachfront home, or riding horses beneath stunning mountain ranges. (Everything you’ve heard about Hawaii’s natural beauty? Turns out it’s true!) But while the show is primarily pitched at a teen audience, there’s also something here for Gen X adults. Wrap yourself in its open-hearted warmth like you used to wrap yourself in a flannel.
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