One thing that The Good Doctor immediately benefits from is the presence of actor Freddie Highmore. Even when a scene is set up to manipulate our emotions (and there are plenty of such moments here), Highmore’s genuineness carries us through.
Thanks to Highmore, we are rooting for the character right from the start: We want to see this character make it at his new workplace and prove everyone who doubted him wrong.
To put the series in context – Highmore’s character, Shaun Murphy, has autism and he is about to start work as one of the surgical residents at a prestigious hospital. This basically means, if he is accepted then he would train to be a surgeon.
Sure, it would be easy to assume that we want him to succeed because Shaun has autism and had a tough childhood (remember the bit about manipulating our emotions? The flashback to Shaun’s younger days is a fine example).
But it probably has more to do with how the hospital board members debated for hours whether to take him on or not.
And then later, as the episode progresses, how his fellow doctors and patients react to him – quite negatively, most of the time. Ironically too, a parent to a child with autism doesn’t want Shaun to be in their son’s operating room because they’ve never seen their adult son as a capable person.
In this time when equality is often talked about, The Good Doctor is an apt reminder to not be quick to judge anyone based on just one thing.
So, it makes sense that while the weekly cases on the show range from interesting and ouch to ewww and sometimes zzzzz, what really piques our curiosity is Shaun.
Even though he is socially awkward, has mood swings and avoids any kind of contact if possible, his diagnostic skills are unparalleled; this young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome has the ability to break down medical information almost like a computer.
In one episode he correctly calculates the trajectory of a bullet in a patient’s body who is bleeding to death on the operating table, and thus saves her life.
But, what drives the show is how he has to work extra hard just to be heard by his superior Dr Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) and colleagues. Shaun also has to figure out how to become a colleague and a doctor in more than just a medical sense.
The Good Doctor’s producer David Shore (who is responsible for another hit medical series House MD) knows how to conjure up a strong protagonist for sure.
He does this by creating the exact opposite of the other beloved character he gave us: If Hugh Laurie’s House usually got his way, Shaun not only doesn’t get his way, he is often disrespected and dismissed entirely.
Whenever Shaun is turned away or chided for something in a patronising manner, we see his mind turning in determination – arguing with logic.
Highmore excels in conveying the tiniest emotion Shaun displays with only a slight change in facial expression and body language.
It is also pleasant to see a character who is innocent and child-like, after having so many anti-heroes as leads lately.
It’s nice to observe Shaun telling things as they are, without any sugarcoating even if it is bad news unfortunately. For example, he tells a patient point blank that he’s going to die instead of breaking the news gently. Oops!
Far from being inappropriate, this childlike persona sets up for both humorous and lighter moments – like when Shaun compiles flirting techniques by observing his colleagues.
Actors Richard Schiff (who plays a hospital board member that hires Shaun) and Antonia Thomas (who plays a fellow surgical resident) ably keep up with Highmore, making their scenes together quite enjoyable.
But not all is well and good with the series.
When The Good Doctor focuses on some of the other characters, it practically nosedives into a snoozefest.
Like, who cares what is going on with another surgical resident Dr Jared Kalu (Chuku Modu), or in the life of surgeon Dr Melendez?
Neither characters have won me over yet. And not just because they were not nice to Shaun in the beginning.
It seems like the show is trying to make Dr Kalu everything Shaun is not. While Shaun is far from savvy about kissing his boss’ behind (“You have beautiful hair, Dr Melendez,” is the best he got), Dr Kalu gets his way by paying compliments more naturally. Ugh.
What is unnecessary are the flashback scenes when Shaun was younger and had an abusive father, and a caring brother.
Dylan Kingwell who portrays the brother is good in this role, but the flashbacks – which are laden with emotional setups – do nothing much for the plot as a whole.
Thankfully, they stop after a few episodes, with a satisfying conclusion.
The Good Doctor is far from perfect and sometimes borders on sappy but thanks to Highmore, the show is more than watchable.
The Good Doctor airs every Friday at 10pm on Fox Life (Astro Ch 711).