America's favorite teenage doctor, Doogie Howser MD makes more rounds in 25 episodes of the 1990-1991 season. By this time, Neil Patrick Harris's freshly-scrubbed image graced countless teen magazine covers and bedroom posters (I know-I had them all!) so the writers could have grown lazy with their scripting quality and/or Harris could have become lazy with his execution of those scripts. However the second season of this ABC series continued dispensing a great prescription for entertainment.
A theme throughout this whole second season is that Doogie, for all of his accomplishments, also faces challenges. Steven Bochco continued avoiding the stereotypical portrayal of child geniuses in favor of giving his viewing audience a more complex picture. Instead the season illustrates that child prodigies are not perfect and cannot get everything they want in the world. Trying to be perfect also wears these people out.
Doogie's heavy third-year residency duties make him fear he's missing out on his youth. While other teens are out shopping at the mall and partying, he is patching up people who come into Eastland Hospital. To this day, I still remember Neil Patrick Harris passed out on his bathroom toilet from exhaustion over those shifts just because it's a powerful contrast against the `perfect child prodigy' able to withstand anything.
Of course, dad (James B. Siking) provides some shared empathy from his own residency experiences, but this is one of the times where David Howser MD does not fully understand his son's experiences because of the generation/age gap. Doogie is intellectually a genius but physically he's still only a teenager with the average teenager's physical stamina. Consequently, the shifts required of third year residents really take their toll on him.
In "Ask Dr. Doogie" Doogie gets his own TV infotainment show to provide young people/ young adults with information about their bodies. It is supposed to be a cross between a talk show and a basic medical advice column. Doogie's initially psyched about the idea because he thinks that young people will feel more comfortable getting information from him than a `traditional' doctor who ultimately looks like their parents. Yet, he later decides that the flashy format which the producers want to use just isn't him and working in the drab hospital-away from the camera--- makes him much happier. The `TV show within a TV show' episodes in a series usually are not memorable, but I still can remember the quasi-hip hop opening theme song for `Ask Dr. Doogie' to this very day because is so snappy. I am presuming that if this episode were made today that somebody would find a way to turn the fictitious opening credits into a CD single in order to further cash in on the TV series.
Doogie helps Vinnie out with his own aspirations by agreeing to appear in his friend's home-made horror film in "Revenge of the teenage dead" just in time for Halloween. For all of the `adult stuff' which he deals with at the hospital, Doogie's not above fooling around in a low-budget slasher; supporting his friend's dreams is important to Doogie. This episode is a good illustration of Harris and Casella's excellent comedic partnership.
During "Nautilus for naught", Doogie joins the 1980's-1990s fitness craze by deciding to purchase a nautilus machine. Yet Doogie is so busy he hardly gets to use it and so returns it. Anybody can relate to having so many conflicting appointments on the schedule and not enough time allocated for relaxation/fitness.
Doogie confronts death at the hospital when one of his patients dies in "To live and die in Brentwood". All doctors eventually have a patient who dies despite their best efforts, but this development subsequently challenges his self-perception as a genius who can do `anything' inside Eastland's walls. Doogie must now acknowledge that even he is not capable of saving everybody at the hospital and he can also expect that more of his patients will die in the future just because this is how life goes. It's not a particularly happy or comfortable episode, but it is a growing experience for Doogie-and this script expertly showcases Harris's genuine talents as a dramatic actor.
Another dramatic arch is his relationship with Wanda Plen (Lisa Dean Ryan), explored in "Dances with Wanda" and many other episodes. Wanda and Doogie make an adorable and attractive couple. Wanda is a thoughtful, articulate, and attractive teenager; the writers of this series knew that their atypical protagonist would never be credible with a blonde bimbo who only got by on her looks. The end of this season sees a test of their relationship because the death of her mom in a car crash inevitably plunges Wanda into a deep depression.
The only really bad plot decision made this season is that Jack McGuire (Mitchell Anderson), Doogie's resident colleague leaves at the end. If Vinnie is his friend outside of Eastland, Jack is Doogie's `workplace friend', albeit at a slightly older physical age. Jack has also already experienced personal things which Doogie is still curious about and thus is Doogie's advice source on those issues-rather than his own parents. Even as a preadolescent, I thought that Jack was good looking, and was then disappointed that he left the series at the end of this season. However, seeing as Harris and the rest of this cast actually can act, the series would make a complete recovery during the third and fourth seasons.
Extras include more `computer diary' entries and more interviews with Neil Patrick Harris about his experiences with this series. There is also an interview with Max Casella (Vinnie Delpino) about his thoughts on this series.