David Shore is back with a new medical drama with familiar overtones.
The Good Doctor focuses on another brilliant doctor whose various timely hypotheses are based on a series of subtle insights his colleagues have missed. Flouting hospital rules and procedures, this Doc is determined to save lives, even if it means upsetting the board of management, and rubbing his fellow doctors up the wrong way.
Sound familiar? If you’re wondering if ABC’s latest medical drama might just be House 2.0 on another network then you’ll either be disappointed (or relieved?) to learn that’s just about as far as the comparisons stretch.
The Good Doctor swaps the hook of the curmudgeonly Dr. House and his reliance on pain medication for autism and savant syndrome, and presents a more altogether pleasant and less jaded protagonist in Freddie Highmore as gifted young surgeon Dr. Shaun Murphy.
The series sets up the pieces as Shaun travels from his quiet country home with the hope of making a career and life-altering move to the prestigious St. Bonaventure hospital’s surgical unit in San Jose. However, as Shaun sets out, encountering his own series of obstacles along the way, he is unaware that the hospital board is still debating his fitness for a position there.
On Shaun’s side is Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff), who we will learn first met Shaun as a child and was responsible for inspiring him to become a doctor in the first place. However, both Glassman and Shaun will have to prove to the board, and to Neil Melendez, the arrogant surgical chief (Nicholas Gonzalez) that he is more than a diagnosis, and that his savant syndrome could just make him the hospital’s most capable surgeon yet.
Unlike House, The Good Doctor presents a wonderfully sympathetic and likable character in Shaun, who retains a sense of childhood innocence and optimism despite flashbacks to a troubled past. Following his work on Bates Motel, Highmore once again excels in his portrayal of a young man struggling to find a way to connect and relate a maelstrom of thoughts, ideas and emotions to those around him, and his turn as the gentle but brilliant Shaun makes the other characters on screen seem harder, meaner and more cynical in comparison.
Among the self-serving, back-stabbing, cynical crew at St. Bonaventure are Antonia Thomas as Dr. Claire Browne, the aforementioned Nicholas Gonzalez as Dr. Neil Melendez, Chuku Modu as Dr. Jared Kalu, Beau Garrett as Jessica Preston, Hill Harper as Dr. Marcus Andrews, and Tamlyn Tomita as Allegra Aoki.
Playing nicely is one thing these character’s don’t do well, but the various behind the scenes machinations (and occasional face-to-face dust-ups) mean we’re not likely to forget any of these characters soon — an advantage for any new drama series showcasing a large ensemble cast in a pilot episode.
While you’ll unequivocally root for Shaun, you may find yourself rolling your eyes just a bit at the pilot’s penchant for defining, redefining, and endlessly debating the pros and cons of both Shaun’s autism and his savant syndrome. In fact, the premiere spends so much time presenting supporting characters in lengthy debate of this nature you might begin to feel the show is trying to convince itself of its own unique selling point.
Additionally, The Good Doctor at times strays dangerously close to the thin line between inspiring young doctor saves a patient motifs and more inspiration-porn territory, shifting focus towards the disability, rather than staying with the person getting the job done regardless of that disability. While we’re pretty sure ABC understands autism isn’t some form of superpower, or a reason in itself to break out the tissues on a weekly basis, we’re not altogether convinced it quite yet knows how to handle disability in a mainstream drama series. (Check out comedy series Speechless on the same network for a better interpretation.)
Putting aside some pretty cool special effects that show the inner workings of Shaun’s brilliant savant mind, it’s Highmore himself who proves to be true highlight of The Good Doctor. (He’s so good he made us hate Nicholas Gonzalez which is a thing we didn’t think was possible!). Interestingly too, those expecting to tear up at the patient of the week cases might just find themselves reaching for the tissues during those poignant flashback scenes instead. (Unless, y’know, you’re crying over how mean Nicholas Gonzalez is instead.)
All in all, I’m a sucker for a good medical drama. Like Shaun, we’d love for this one to succeed despite the odds.
ScreenSpy Score: B-
The Good Doctor premieres Monday, September 25 (10:01-11:00 p.m. EDT), on ABC.