The Good Doctor First Impressions
“Why were you rude to me when we first met then nicer to me the second time we met and now you want to be my friend? Which time was it that you were pretending?”
Midway through the pilot of The Good Doctor, I began playing a game. Whenever our main character, Dr. Shaun Murphy, said something with no social awareness and with all his wide-eyed naivete that comes with his condition, I’d imagine that same line was said with a sense of bitterness and sarcasm. The end result was that I found myself watching House again. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, mind you. I still consider the early seasons of House M.D. to be a guilty pleasure. That being said, when you consider the fact that The Good Doctor is from the creators of House and is about a disabled medical practitioner who lacks social grace and whose colleagues question whether his genius is worth the price of dealing with his erratic qualities… Well at a certain point it begins to feel as if someone is just cribbing off their previous work. In the end, the real question is whether The Good Doctor has enough unique qualities to distinguish itself from its predecessor.
The key distinction between Dr. Shaun Murphy and Dr. Gregory House is that, where House was bitter and angry due in part to his physical disability, Murphy’s social limitations stem directly from his disability. Murphy is an autistic savant who, despite being a medical genius, has set the hospital board on edge due to the questionable ethics of hiring an individual with such a pronounced behavioral condition. Freddie Highmore does an impressive job portraying Murphy even if the writing and execution aren’t always up to the task. The Good Doctor seems all too eager to borrow from Sherlock’s mind palace visuals when presenting Murphy’s thought process, and, while there are some nice visualizations, like how a line extends in front of Murphy as he walks through his hometown like an inverted Family Circus strip, but most of the time, it simply serves to say, “He’s thinking!” as it flashes fragments of medical textbooks. I have to question what direction the show is likely to take with Murphy’s character. House’s character flaws were driven by bitterness and resentment which are personal aspects that could theoretically be confronted and dealt with. However, Murphy’s only apparent flaws in this first episode would seem to be tied to his autism, and even then, it’s mainly just the absence of predictable behavior that the condition entails. I’m unsure how he can be developed as the show progresses.
The rest of the cast isn’t given enough time to leave much of an impression, but that’s partly because there may be a few too many cooks in this particular operating room. Of the more than a dozen other major characters, only two of them actually stand out. The first is Shaun’s mentor and the president of the hospital, Aaron Glassman, played by Richard Schiff. Glassman’s character is slightly problematic for me, as sizable portion of the episode is spent with the board questioning his judgment and objectivity, and their arguments aren’t entirely without some merit. It doesn’t help that Schiff plays the character as being rather combative, and this can result in him coming across as erratic. The other character to stand out from the background would be a resident named Claire Browne, played by Antonia Thomas, who recognizes Shaun’s medical capabilities and is on the path to forming a friendship with him. She’s fine and does her job well, but she doesn’t have a lot to do outside of get berated by her superior and try, with varying degrees of effectiveness, to communicate with Murphy.
As for the medical mystery, there isn’t much to say on that front. The key problem with medical procedurals, like House, is they’re forced make a medical mystery compelling even though the overwhelming majority of their viewing audience are laymen. This first case isn’t supposed to be particularly in depth though, since it primarily serves as a backdrop for the introduction of our main character. A kid gets hit by a pane of glass at the airport, and, in the mother of all coincidences, Shaun just happens to be coming through the terminal at that very moment. It’s all par-for-the-course, and I’m not sure to what degree the medical cases will be central to the story moving forward.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- I was most of the way through the episode before I recognized Antonia Thomas as Alisha from Misfits. She does a good American accent. I wonder if British actors putting on convincing American accents is a requirement for a David Shore medical drama.
- Richard Schiff is best known for his role as Toby Ziegler on The West Wing, but, more recently, he has appeared as Emil Hamilton in Man of Steel and Zimmerfield in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
- To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t aware that this show had premiered on the September 25th. I had noticed Hulu had that listed as the date for the first episode, but I had assumed it had just been made available early. Guess I was a little late to the party on this one.
The Good Doctor is not unenjoyable, and it does take on a notable and serious topic with its main character’s autism. However, it lacks the subtle and nuanced hand required to properly tackle these issues, and its occasional stylistic flair and overstuffed cast feel like distractions designed to prevent viewers from recognizing the unfortunate dearth of originality. This could develop into something more promising, but I doubt I’ll be compelled to find out for myself.