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Nobody Knows What It’s Like: My Review of “The Good Doctor”

Author: Merrick Egber (October 5th, 2017) An attempt at a spoiler free review.

Disclaimer: This review only covers the first two episodes, “Pilot – Burnt Food”, and “Mount Rushmore”

Through better strategies to assess and treat children with autism, it is time for some empowerment stories of autism told through the lens of cinema and T.V. Last year we had the movie “Accountant”, and sometime before that, movies like “Temple Grandin” and “Adam” all giving perspectives on autism. What is generally considered the most important conflict for those with autism is in asserting their own individuality and independence in a world that didn’t prepare for them. Thus, for this back to school season in 2017, we have two shows chronicling adult-aged people with autism trying to make it through what are generally called the most important moments of our lives. “Atypical” which I reviewed in August, is a show about autism and dating.  “The Good Doctor”, which I’m reviewing now, is a show about the highly competitive world of surgery with an autistic surgeon.

“The Good Doctor” stars Freddie Highmore (“Bates’ Motel”) as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a surgeon in residence from Wyoming who ends up getting a job at a prestigious hospital, St. Bonaventure, in San Jose, California, thanks in part to his benefactor, Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff), who runs St. Bonaventure. Besides Mr. Highmore and Mr. Glassman, there’s Nicholas Gonzalez as Dr. Neil Melendez, the arrogant head of surgery, Antonia Thomas as Dr. Browne, a conflicted co-worker who likes Dr. Murphy, Chuku Modu as Dr. Jared Kalu, a competitive, aspirational type, Beau Garrett as Jessica Preston, a member of the Board of Directors who has hereditary connections to the hospital and Hill Harper as Dr. Marcus Andrews, the primary antagonist to Dr. Glassman’s interest in hiring Dr. Murphy. It was developed by David Shore, the creator of “House”, and Seth Gordon, who directed all 8 episodes of “Atypical”, returns as executive producer for this series. Also on board is Daniel Dae Kim (“Chin” on the remade series of “Hawaii Five-O”) whose production company, 3AD, took remaking “Good Doctor” into this series as their first project.

Dr. Murphy is a valuable contribution to portrayals of autism in the media. Much like Sam Gardner, in “Atypical”, he isn’t a complete caricature, and his character is more based upon our modern understanding of autism than someone like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”. While he has a set of gifts usually attributed to autistic savants, of which he is one, he also has difficulties that are more relevant to real people which creates a more nuanced take on the subject. In some ways I can relate to Dr. Murphy, as much as I can relate to Sam Gardner, they are both committed, instinctual personalities who have built ways of coping with anarchistic mental states that can be freeing but also highly stressful.

But my biggest criticism of the series is in the way they present the supporting cast. Outside of Dr. Glassman, you have different shades of “ehhh”, at least they have personalities. But almost all of them need development plans for the rest of the season, otherwise it’s a bunch of one track characters with very little motivation, other than their reactions to Dr. Murphy. As it is, I’ve only seen the first two episodes, I hope they will develop these characters beyond “anger” and “being conflicted”. It would also be nice to know if these characters even know of anybody else who is autistic, which would make this show feel even more real.

“The Good Doctor” is a good show, there are moments that produce bright, exciting, dramatic moments. Dr. Murphy delivers a few zingers now and then, while also attempting to improve on his social skills. It’s not an insulting show, but it could stand to make improvements to give viewers something to watch, even if they don’t know anything about autism.