The Good Doctor: Season 1
There is an extraordinary level of confidence imbued in the following statement. Every television season contains at least one, if not more, series based on the practice of medicine. That seemingly simple mandate cuts a broad swath through that popular genre. The most obvious variation is the location. Most commonly the burgeoning medical series showrunner chooses between the hospital and private practice, a decision face by each medical student upon graduation and appending the coveted ‘M.D. to their name, whether to remain within institutional medicine or strike out in private practice. Both were represented in the venerable prime-time medical drama, but the division is typically skewed towards the hospital setting. The rationale is simple, logical and quite efficient. The hospital inherently opens the narrative to a vast variety of circumstances, diseases, and specialists. It also greatly expands the potential pool of characters ranging from doctors, well-seasoned and students, to the myriad of patients and facility support staff. With such popularity to the hospital venue, it has become increasingly difficult, even for the most creative showrunner, to devise a novel twist to draw and retain the audience. For David Shore, he has been at the forefront of reinventing familiar television formulas for decades. Decades ago he was a producer on hit series that revolutionized the police procedural, ‘Law & Order,’ as a writer and supervising producer. He moved to the center stage of creativity with his show, ‘House, M.D.’ that series was iconoclastic, actively opposing the long-accepted archetype of the kindly, caring doctor. His protagonist was a misanthrope, misogynistic with an abrasive personality. He was only kept in his position due to his unparallel genius as a diagnostician. Mr. Shore has returned to the fertile ground of a top-tier medical center with his latest endeavor, ‘The Good Doctor.’ In devising the premise for this series, Mr. Shore reversed the polarity of most of the eponymous doctor’s qualities. Dr. Shaun Murphy is a young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome.
The series wastes no time immersing the audience in the life of Dr. Murphy (Freddie Highmore). We are first introduced to Shaun as he prepares for his first day as a surgical resident at the prestigious San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. On the way, he encounters an accident where a shard of glass punctures a young boy. As a doctor moves forward from the crowd to help, Shaun wonders by and stops. With a glance, he can properly assess the boy’s condition. He clearly states to the doctor, "You are killing him." Shaun determined that there was another injury impeding the boy’s breathing. He also noted that the doctor was applying pressure to the wrong spot. While correct in a textbook context, the doctor failed to account for the difference in the anatomic structure due to the victim’s age. After quickly assembling a makeshift piece of equipment to ease the injury to the lung, both the young boy and new surgical resident are taken to the hospital. This opening scene is demonstrative of the brilliant efficiency infused in the foundation of this series. A few judiciously placed flashbacks neatly established Shaun’s love and dependency on his younger brother, Steven (Dylan Kingwell). The audience is also shown a visual device that will afford them with an approximation of Shaun’s unique mental process for assessing and resolving a problem. The details are broken down, traced and labeled as his eidetic memory correlates his education and experience to formulate the course of action with the highest probability of success. A technique such as this is reminiscent of the ‘House-vision’ visuals where the point of view follows along blood vessels, nerves and other parts of the anatomy.
Creating an antagonistic for a person on the autism spectrum is a delicate matter, certain to drift perilously close of political correctness infractions. Rather than attempting a futile attempt to avoid the issue, Mr. Shore addresses it directly. Dr. Marcus Andrews (Harper Hill), is a very powerful and ambitious man. Is serves the facility as its Chief of Surgery, attending plastic surgeon, and board member. He covers the highest position within his grasp, President of the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. That prestigious position is currently held by Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff), who is also a senior attending in neurosurgery. He is Shaun’s closest confidant, the father figure, and a mentor. As Andrews strongly opposes placing Shaun on staff due to potential liability. The decision falls to Allegra Aoki (Tamlyn Tomita), Chairman of the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital Board and Vice President of the foundation that controls the hospital's funding. When it appears to go against Shaun, Glassman goes all in. If Shaun is accepted and makes any serious mistake, he will resign as President. Andrews, certain of the outcome, jumps at the chance.
The obligatory assortment of second-tier characters is robust, nicely adding to the texture and depth of the stories. Dr. Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez), the Attending cardiothoracic surgeon in charge of surgical residents. Initially, he is engaged to the hospital’s in-house attorney and Vice President of Risk Management, Jessica Preston (Beau Garrett). While Dr. Melendez initially opposes Shaun, Jessica, a friend of Dr. Glassman, sides with Shaun. Melendez is Shaun’s immediate supervisor ultimately having significant input towards Shaun’s fate. Residency is a highly competitive part of medical training. The competition for the limited spots in the top hospitals is fierce. Shaun’s fellow residents are Dr. Jared Kalu (Chuku Modu) and Dr. Claire Browne (Antonia Thomas), who befriends Shaun with a genuine desire to understand how he perceives the world. The typical plot contrivance of forming a romantic relationship between then is expertly and thankfully avoided. Shaun does become friends and very briefly involved with his neighbor, Lea Dilallo (Paige Spara). Within the accepted context of the genre, several threads must address romantic entanglements between the participants. Some concern secondary characters, as an efficient means to flesh them out. Most important is the romances directly involving the principle protagonist. The constraints infused by the details of his mental and emotional status. The treatment of a young autistic man’s nascent forays into the exploration of his burgeoning sexuality must be handled with extraordinary care and sensitivity. This constraint goes beyond mere political correctness extending to basic human decency. Having Shaun become involved with a free-spirited neighbor removes the potential for any persistent plot conflicts. The relationship was brief with Lea never condescending. She treated him as she would any handsome, interesting young man. A very natural set of circumstances brought a conclusion to the relationship immediately after consummation but the effects upon Shaun was lasting and profound, he had a taste of a developmental milestone common to all young people, something his book, mentor of professional experience could provide.
A proven showrunner is invaluable in determining the potential success of a new television series, but it is fundamentally the foundation. What is necessary is to further the construction exemplarity materials are required. In an instance such as this, that translates to the talent an experience of the cast. Mr. Highmore most recently became a household nan with his incredible, award winging performs like a young Norman Bates on ‘Bate’s Motel.’ The range demonstrated by his participation in this series was an ideal showcase for his uncanny ability to embed himself fully in the persona of his character. What makes this particularly impressive is the fact that those characters are emotionally textured and psychologically complex. Grounding the story is the contribution by veteran actor, Richard Schiff. His illustrious career spans almost three decades affording him the opportunity to hone his considerable abilities. He has the rare quality of infusing a quiet, smoldering intensity; this translates to characters that audience members can readily identify. Among his plethora of roles, Mr. Schiff has brought to life arguably his most famous was as Communications Director Toby Ziegler in the acclaimed political drama, ‘The West Wing.’ In the role as the mentor to a brilliant young man with autism, he rose admirably to providing the requisite sensitivity, humanity and fatherly concern. Within the context of the story arc, Dr. Glassman and his protégée argue. It is one thing to play this type of character during mundane moments but to realistically present the stress on a relationship during the first major disagreement requires amazing skill. This series has been renewed, and the fan is grateful for the return of a quality medical drama.