The Good Doctor
The trailer I watched for ABC’s new show The Good Doctor was pitiful, leading me to have little faith it would become part of my weekly lineup. Had I not been on the hunt for shows to review, I likely never would have watched the first episode. The trailer felt uninspired and shallow; just one more example of how Hollywood has lost the ability to innovate. Lest we forget, this is the same network which brought us the abysmal Dr. Ken, which somehow managed not only to avoid cancellation after the first episode, but also get two full seasons. Another House or, perhaps, a reboot of Doogie Howser, M.D. is the easy analogy to make for The Good Doctor. In reality, that would be doing a great disservice to the potential the show has. Similar to most of my TV show reviews, there will be minimal spoilers, but, in this particular instance, I will absolutely spoil part of the first big scene. You have been warned.
Allow me to state outright that I have minimal knowledge of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and what families go through on a daily basis, so please forgive me if my impressions of The Good Doctor’s portrayal of a high-functioning young man with autism are incorrect. What I see is a show where the producers have valiantly attempted to bring us into the world these fine people struggle to deal with and I applaud their efforts. If this character manages to assist others in being more accepting and better able to deal with people who have ASD, then we may be looking at the sleeper hit of the season for that reason alone. While the collective term ASD is used by those familiar, it has not quite entered most people’s everyday vernacular. For this reason, I will use ASD when referring to the disorder in general commentary, but will simplify it to the more common ‘autism’ for the main character of the show, since that is the term the writers have chosen to utilize. If you are reading this, you likely want to know more about the actual show, so let’s dig into the meat of what it has to offer.
We are brought into the home of a young man getting ready to go out for the day, meticulously wrapping and packing a plastic knife-like memento, as well as a few sets of clothing. As he leaves the house, a line is drawn under his feet, detailing the path he will be taking. He is on a singular path, one he is uncomfortable diverting from. Quickly, a flashback appears of a child getting beat up by a group of other children and it would seem this is happening as almost an out of body experience. Saying he has had a rough life would be a gross understatement, but we need to have this ingrained into our subconscious so that we can relate to him on a deeper, more personal level.
After a brief bus ride, the young man arrives at the airport and we watch as his senses begin to overload with a mass of strangers bustling by in close proximity and a myriad of sounds. He immediately pulls out his memento, tightly clutching it in one hand as he rubs it vigorously with the other, in order to regain a semblance of composure. Glancing up towards the construction workers hanging a large sign overhead, one side suddenly releases. A young boy walking towards an information kiosk doesn’t even have a chance to react, as it slices through the air like a butcher’s knife and strikes the kiosk, barely missing him. As glass shards from the sign rain down over him, he collapses to the floor. Nearby, a woman cries out in shock and rushes to his side, only to see her son’s neck is cut open, with blood pooling beneath him. His father shouts for someone to call 911 as a stunned crowd starts to gather.
Rushing through the onlookers, excusing himself, a man states that he’s a doctor and crouches down to examine the boy, explaining that his jugular has been cut and calling for something to slow the bleeding. His mother returns with something for the doctor and applies pressure to the neck wound. Seconds later, still somewhat at a distance, the formerly overwhelmed young man states, almost nonchalantly, “You’re killing him.” The doctor replies confidently, but, now somewhat agitated by the suggestion, “I’m saving his life. He was bleeding out.” Still maintaining his composure, the young man replies, “You have it in the wrong place.” Clearly getting perturbed, the doctor responds incredulously, “I think I remember enough from Anatomy 101 to know where the jugular vein is!” With a miniscule bit of confidence, the young man replies, “You would be in the right place, if he were an adult. He’s not an adult; he is a boy, which means you are also putting pressure on his trachea, which means he is not currently breathing.” With a sudden tinge of self-doubt, our doctor looks away from both him and the mother–who was intently listening–as the young man continues, “You have to put the pressure higher up.” He finally gains the courage to step forward and assist the doctor by physically moving his hands to the proper position, stating, “There”, as the boy immediately gasps for air. The young man feels around the boy’s chest and abdomen before lifting up his shirt to reveal a piece of glass embedded near his rib cage and stating, rather obviously, “Some glass. He’ll be fine.” Finally, the doctor asks with some awe, “Who are you?”, opening the door for our own introduction, “Hello. I’m Doctor Shaun Murphy. I’m a surgical resident at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital.”
All of this occurs within the first five minutes of The Good Doctor and gives us great insight into the mind of Shaun, as well as the psyche of those encountering him for the first time. Not only does Shaun need to overcome the daily tribulations of dealing with his own autism, but the constant disbelief strangers and peers have about his competence. In order to minimize spoilers, I haven’t gotten anywhere near the larger issues Shaun encounters throughout the rest of the episode, so if this already sounds good, just wait. While I could easily go into far more detail about why this show is definitely worth your time, examining the rest of the diverse cast and their individual nuances, as well as explaining who is on Shaun’s side and who is not, there are far too many moments which need to slowly unravel through storytelling and visual representation. There are a number of emotional, tear-jerking moments and I suspect they will continue throughout the series. I truly hope this show gains the viewers it needs because I want to see Shaun’s fellow doctors eat some crow, get knocked down off their high horses, lose a bit (or a lot) of their arrogance, and learn to accept that autism is not a reason to look down upon someone. It is not a curse. Those who have it are not to be ignored, blacklisted, or ridiculed; nor is it something anyone should be ashamed of. My hope is that this show will be able to continue to illustrate all of these things, perhaps bringing it to the forefront, and causing an open discussion to happen in every country it airs. Just as we do not describe someone with cancer as a “cancerous person”, describing someone with autism as an “autistic person” is generally unacceptable. Everyone needs to understand that people with ASD are simply… people.
Watch the first episode for free, right now, at http://abc.go.com/shows/the-good-doctor without even having to sign up.