For today’s Christmas episode, we’re going back to the days when a young child could become a doctor and learn a lot of lessons about growing up while performing emergency surgery. Yes, it’s time to thrill to the adventures of a tiny Neil Patrick Harris in Doogie Howser, M.D.
Doogie Howser, M.D. – “Doogie the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Original airdate: December 13, 1989
I know I watched at least some Doogie Howser in my day. I have a lot of stray memories of the show and even this episode seemed vaguely familiar. If you ask me who played Doogie’s dad, I can confidently answer “James B. Sikking” on any day of my life. I feel like I jumped off pretty early, though – I can’t imagine I was still watching this show once I could drive. There’s no way that I was watching Northern Exposure and Doogie at the same point in my life.
And it turns out, it’s not bad. The gimmick is a bit much but this is still in Season One and there are no references to how weird it is that a child is a doctor. Thirteen episodes in, and they already expect you to have bought in to the premise, which I appreciate. And it’s fun to see young NPH and Max Casella. Casella plays Doogie’s friend, Vinnie, and he’s been in a million things since then, including recurring roles on The Sopranos and Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
A thing I didn’t remember? Doogie is an ER doctor. There is a reference to him working a 30 hour shift and I feel like the child labor people would have objected, but let’s not start picking at it. It’s also a half-hour show, which is weird because it’s definitely not a comedy and you don’t see half-hour dramas on network TV anymore. I’m not even sure you did then. Was this marketed as a comedy?
As the episode starts, Doogie is doing doctor stuff. There’s a patient with a head injury who believes himself to be Darth Vader. It’s very hectic and then Dr. Canfield announces that they’re short-staffed because of a flu going around and some doctors, including Doogie, are going have to work through Christmas Eve. One guy straight up refuses and walks off and he is never referenced again. This show does a lot of that – screen time goes to these weird blind alleys that don’t have a payoff but aren’t especially interesting on their own. Once Doogie is committed to working, Vinnie shows up to talk about how great the party their friend is throwing is going to be.
Doogie obviously can’t go, but he asks Vinnie to take his credit card to go pick up a necklace for Wanda, his girlfriend. Vinnie is incredulous that Doogie has a credit card and it goes on forever. It feels like a Chekhov’s pistol, but there’s no payoff. No lost credit card, no Vinnie using it for his own purposes. It’s several minutes devoted to the existence of a card. Even at half an hour, they had some time to fill. There’s then a brief bit where a patient comes in and the guy with the head injury is posing as an orderly. Cool hospital they have there!
Doogie gets the bright idea to fake the flu so they’ll let him leave; he does exactly that, including some fake fainting. Canfield sends him home. Meanwhile, the head injury man poses as Santa Claus and then asks Nurse Curly Spaulding (no other name is given) what she wants and she gets very specific about what she’s looking for in a man. Which is what we all do when speaking to strangers.
At the party, Doogie is miserable because he feels guilty and also his clothes are several sizes too big. That is not specifically cited as a reason for his sadness, but I can assume. After watching Vinnie eat a bunch of cookies, he has a medical revelation and returns to work. Meanwhile, head injury man, out of his Santa outfit, is hitting on Curly and using the information she gave as a persona. The bit I like is that when he says he’s a ski instructor, she is visibly aroused. She is super into ski instructors, I guess. I’m trying to guess if there’s any job that would make me instantly attracted to somebody and all I can come up with is “podcast host” or “Alison Brie stand-in”. But then he passes out. Doogie realized, thanks to Vinnie eating cookies, that he has a problem with his sugar level that’s messing up his brain and the day is saved.
The staff prepares to give out gifts to patients because it’s a hospital show and you have to put that in a Christmas episode. Everybody goofs around and improvises a medical version of “12 Days of Christmas” and just imagine how long that must have taken to sing in its entirety. But then there’s a four-care pileup and everybody has to get back to work and save lives.
That night, both Wanda and Vinnie climb into Doogie’s window for Christmas wishes and Doogie journals about the true meaning of Christmas. SPOILEE: It’s giving.
Best Line: “Suzie knows guys who know guys in the music industry. There’s gonna be roadies at this party!” — Vinnie
Trimming the Tree – There’s a subplot where Doogie’s father (James B Sikking) can’t get the lights on their Christmas tree to work. Monday morning quarterbacking, but it probably needed a third beat. Maybe they can add one in the Special Edition.
Christmas Decorations – The hospital and the Howser house are both decorated to a realistic degree. It’s not like one of those hospitals that looks like Santa’s Village, as we so often see on TV.
Santa Claus – Head Injury Man, Dr. Canfield, and Vinnie all wear Santa costumes. Doogie and several other employees dress like reindeer (but they’re all Rudolph, which is infuriating), and some extras are seen in elf garb.
Gift Exchange – Doogie gives Wanda an expensive necklace. She’s going to give him his present the next day, and you know since he’s a doctor and she’s a high school student who maybe works two days a week at American Eagle, he’s going to get like a VHS tape of Flatliners. A minor character gets an Ethel Mirman CD for his mom and it goes missing and this is never resolved.
Learning a Lesson – Don’t abandon your doctor job to go to a party. A relatable lesson.
Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – Despite the weird storytelling, this was fun to watch and pleasant. Christmas sort of takes a backseat until everybody puts on costumes, but it’s still enough for a 6.