David Shore, the creator of the long-running medical-drama “House,” fails to outlive the trope of his past series in his newest conception, “The Good Doctor.” Focusing on Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore, “Bates Motel”), a brilliant surgeon diagnosed with autism and savant syndrome, which give him genius-like abilities, “The Good Doctor” raises moral questions unlike other medical dramas currently on air.
Though the series’ main focus is to push boundaries, the show does suffer from a bitter lack of originality. There’s too much going on. While Dr. Shaun’s characteristics are somewhat reminiscent of Dr. House’s attitudes on “House,” the model-esque doctors dragging one another into on-call rooms and supply closets is a perfect parallel to “Grey’s Anatomy.” It’s understandable for series in the medical-drama genre to overlap in certain aspects, but “The Good Doctor” feels like too much of the same thing with one completely new thing thrown into the mix. Coupled with Shore’s past work leaking into the present and Highmore’s attitudes as Dr. Murphy somewhat reflecting that of his previous role as Norman Bates, it seems like the two are sticking to what they know best, opting for success over originality.
However, though there are clear issues with borrowing — it’s hard not to be charmed by the series. Through the use of on-screen aids similar to those used in the popular BBC television series, “Sherlock,” Highmore conveys a lot with just his demeanor. Viewers think alongside Dr. Murphy, watching as his brain files through hundreds upon thousands of remembered material to catch up with his own thought process. You can’t help but feel charmed by the doctor who, as someone that claims to be bad with people, jokes around with colleagues at work, and feels emotions so deep that tears are brought forth from our eyes. On that same note, there are instances in which the series seems to be trying too hard to focus on Shaun’s deficits. Is this not a series about not focusing on deficits?
It’s hard not to laugh when Shaun, unceremoniously, strides up to TSA and asks for a knife, only to grab one and run through the airport. Immediately after, you have that feeling of “did I just laugh at that? I am so going to hell.” In a way, they could have done without this scene and the premiere would not have suffered in any way from its loss. It almost takes away from the brilliance of Shaun’s mind to see him suddenly chased throughout an airport for a misunderstanding. But perhaps that was what the creators had intended: The dualism that autistic individuals face, constantly walking the line between the crowd which “oohs” and “awws” around a high-functioning individual, yet chases down that same individual for simply being “different.”
After all, this is not the first time this has happened. Later on in the episode, Shaun, despite having saved a life and present for a job interview, is chased out of the hospital by security staff under the direction of him coming off as too “weird.” It’s a distressing image that I believe Highmore portrays rather well, especially so as he is turned away again and again without any prior explanation as to why he is being denied building access. It’s an opportunity for Shore to showcase the prejudices that autistic individuals often face. Would you have been denied entry simply for being different, as Shaun was?
Overall, “The Good Doctor” is a heartwarming series that shows promise typical of its genre. However, it must learn to present itself as an opportunity to see through the eyes of a high-functioning autistic individual — not solely as another medical drama with a twist. It is vital that “The Good Doctor” differentiate itself from both Shore’s past projects as well as current series on the air such as “Young Sheldon.” On that same note, Shore must also learn that the fastest path to originality is by taking chances and stepping outside of boundaries, not just in one tiny aspect of the show, but in the entire essence of the series itself. It’s a delicate line that is drawn on a delicate topic. So far, “The Good Doctor” has proven itself the potential to become more than just a shiny new series, so long as it can continue to evolve in a way that keeps the heart of the show alive.