The Good Doctor: A Review

ABC’s newest medical drama has everything viewers want


Photo by Justin Zhou

The Good Doctor is now available to watch on ABC’s website to stream multiple episodes from the first season.

Watch out everyone! A new medical drama has come to town; one with its own special twist. The Good Doctor, whose first episode aired in September on ABC, features a young surgical resident named Shaun Murphy. Shaun has both autism and Savant syndrome, and struggles with those who see him unfit for a doctor. Throughout the series, Shaun has to learn how to interact with other people and “fit in” so to speak. Averaging more than 10 million American views per episode, with ratings as high as 96% on Google users, The Good Doctor has proved to be widely successful across the country. So what’s the deal with this new show?

The Good Doctor is actually based on a 2013 South Korean medical drama named Good Doctor, which features much of the same plot. The series stars actor Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy at the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital in California. All of his life, Shaun has been ostracized for how different he is from others. However, even more devastating was his abusive father, who simply could not understand his behavior. The only friend Shaun had was his younger brother Steve, who was always quick to protect Shaun from this discrimination. After a number of incidents which left Shaun alone at the age of 14, he came under the care of Dr. Glassman, who just so happened to be the president of the hospital. Throughout the years leading up to the present, Dr. Glassman served as both an understanding mentor and fierce champion for Shaun. In fact, one of the first scenes of the show depicts the doctor trying to convince the hospital board to let Shaun work there.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Shaun’s condition, Savant syndrome is found in people with developmental disabilities that simultaneously have spectacular “islands of genius” that stand in jarring juxtaposition to overall limitations. As discussed by the Wisconsin Medical Society, people with autism, central nervous system disorders, or other developmental disabilities may be unusually gifted in areas such as music, art, calendar calculating, mathematics or mechanical/visual-spatial skills. It is estimated that one in 10 people with autism has savant skills. Interestingly enough, to this day, people are still debating on an explanation for these spectacular skills. One theory proposed by Dr. Treffert describes how recruitment and rewiring of brain tissue into another area of the brain may account for the genetic transfer of knowledge and skills, allowing savants to know things they never learned. In the case of Shaun Murphy, he is able to mentally visualize what he is working on at all times, whether it’s a pulmonary embolism or a tumor wedged inside the brain. This skill makes Shaun an exceptional surgeon, as he is able to quickly diagnosis the patient and provide effective treatment options.

So how is this show relevant to today’s world? Well, the recent years have included much discussion on autism and other mental conditions. Many have debated over the proper representation as well as the treatment of autistic people. After the premier of The Good Doctor, a number of sources have offered critique on whether the show “gets it right”. A recent article by The Morning Call advocates that the show is letting more people know what autism is like. In fact, Lisa Goring, an officer for Autism Speaks in New York City, states, “We see this show as a great step toward increasing understanding and acceptance.” The show portrays Shaun with many common characteristics that can be found in autistic people, including walking with hands clasped together in order to stay focused, and speaking in a direct, monotone voice that lets people know exactly what he is thinking. More importantly, each episode destroys misconceptions about autism one at a time, as reported by the IndieWire. For instance, Shaun Murphy shows that feelings can be hurt and that atypical behaviors can improve. Although he struggles to express them, Shaun does feel angry, sad or lonely at times. Moreover, he gradually develops a new understanding of sarcasm and humor as well.

On the other hand, others argue that the show is inaccurately representing autism, bringing in a scene from the first episode in which Shaun describes why he wanted to be a doctor in a very child-speak manner. To Amy Glynn of Paste Magazine, this strikes as manipulative and conflicting with how others would treat people with autism in the workplace. Another critic believes that The Good Doctor misleads people into believing that every person with autism also has a special talent.

Either way, The Good Doctor not only brings a much needed attention to autism spectrum disorder, but also an entertaining new show that millions can enjoy every week. Freddie Highmore says himself, “Hopefully this show is about coming up with nuances and not focusing only on Shaun’s struggles, but the positive ways he can contribute to the hospital.” All in all, the show has its highs and lows, but hey, that’s what makes it interesting. The Good Doctor has its own way of combining a typical medical drama with something so totally out of the blue that you just have to see for yourself. If you’re looking for something new to watch this November, I think you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise!