'The Good Doctor' prospers with original spin

Freddie Highmore is both uplifting, authentic as autistic surgeon

ae-TheGoodDoctor-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

Freddie Highmore, who previously portrayed teenage serial killer Norman Bates on “Bates Motel,” is producing as well as starring in the show.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Shaun Murphy is the kind of man who hates white lies. He’s a sharp-edged, straight forward thinker who rarely laughs and can’t quite understand what it means to flirt. But on the operating table, away from the distractions of senseless social conventions, Dr. Murphy shows himself to be a puzzle-solver and a fearless savant of anatomy and the human condition.

Portrayed by Freddie Highmore on “The Good Doctor,” Dr. Murphy is a first-year surgical resident at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. The show follows him as he navigates hospital life, struggles to manage his own autism and faces backlash from a team of doctors who don’t believe in him. Creator David Shore — who adapted ABC’s “The Good Doctor” from a show on the South Korean network “Korean Broadcasting System 2” — explained, “This is a character that networks might have been afraid of putting on TV, afraid that he might not be relatable, 10 years ago. We are watching a character that we’re not used to seeing on TV and we are relating to him.”

It is Dr. Murphy’s relatability, his childlike like sincerity and wonder, that often has audiences questioning our own social norms along with him. But when there are so few autistic characters on screen, Highmore carries a heavy burden of representing autism truthfully and walking the line between relatability and accuracy. 

“That’s important to remember with Shaun, constructing him as an individual,” Highmore said. “He can’t represent everyone on the spectrum, in the same way your ‘typical’ lead character on a show can’t possibly represent everyone.”

Highmore, who previously portrayed teenage serial killer Norman Bates on “Bates Motel,” is producing as well as starring in the show. With only three days between the demise of his last show and birth of his new one, he has seamlessly transitioned from murdering people on screen to saving their lives. Within one week, he attended the Golden Globes as a nominee for “The Good Doctor” and the Critics’ Choice Awards as a nominee for “Bates Motel.” After over 15 years of acting, it seems Hollywood is finally taking notice of his talent.

Even beyond Highmore’s bold role, the “The Good Doctor” is full of promise. Its impressively racially diverse cast, including Nicholas Gonzalez, Antonia Thomas, Chuku Modu and Hill Harper, take on a variety of topical issues, including a frustratingly realistic sexual harassment plot line. Between the personal lives of the doctors and the bizarre parade of hospital patient guest stars, there is no shortage of drama.

Admittedly in 2018 it feels like every storyline — no matter how strange — that could possibly happen in a hospital setting has already been tackled by at least one of the countless medical shows that have come and gone. Shore himself was also the creator of “House,” a similarly structured drama about a bitter, drug-addicted yet genius doctor. Thankfully, Dr. Murphy’s deeply original character has given “The Good Doctor” a lot of new material for plots both inside and outside the hospital. Only time will tell whether the show can sustain the ingenuity and creativity it has had in its first season.

What is so striking about this show is how it portrays that Dr. Murphy, for a man that has so much trouble understanding other people, is able to convey an incredible amount of empathy for his patients and coworkers. He shows up at patients’ houses in the middle of the night, he spends thousands of dollars ordering every test possible so that he can confidently say people are healthy and he doles out inadvertently brilliant advice, even during surgery. 

In a time when our country constantly needs healing, “The Good Doctor’s” genuine and compassionate spirit is here to remind us of each other’s humanity, as well as save a few lives along the way. 

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