While you were distracted by all those shiny new cable and streaming TV shows, America found a new network TV sweetheart. ABC’s The Good Doctor has leapt up in the ratings, managing to dethrone This Is Us and NCIS as the No. 1 network drama last week. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re probably wondering what exactly happens on The Good Doctor that has millions of TV viewers transfixed. Lucky for you, we are here to help.
What is this show about?
The Good Doctor, based on a Korean drama of the same name, stars Bates Motel’s Freddie Highmore as a surgical resident with autism and savant syndrome. Think of it as Young, Nice House, or The Big Bang Theory in a Hospital, or Slightly More Grown-up and Significantly More Serious Doogie Howser, M.D. Highmore’s character, Shaun Murphy, has all the traits of a generic TV genius — stilted mannerisms, social awkwardness, brilliant intellect — which he uses to solve medical traumas of the week in ingenious ways. Intermixed with the medical scenes, there are flashbacks to Shaun’s childhood, which are generally so saccharine you’ll get a toothache.
Got it, Freddie Highmore is the good doctor. But who else is on the show?
Does it matter? Okay, fine. Other stars of The Freddie Highmore Doctor Show include The West Wing’s Richard Schiff as Shaun’s curmudgeonly mentor and Misfits and Lovesick’s Antonia Thomas as his exasperated fellow resident, Dr. Claire Browne.
Oh, hey! I liked Antonia Thomas on Lovesick and Misfits. Does she have much to do on this show?
Nope! Mostly she’s around so Shaun has someone to explain things to. But she did get to drill a hole through a skull this week, so things are looking up for her in future episodes.
This sounds like a pretty standard medical drama. Why would I watch it?
If you’re think that “pretty standard medical drama” and “TV show worth watching” are mutually exclusive, then I can’t help you. The Good Doctor succeeds because of its formula. It’s not a television show you need to watch to keep abreast of TV’s cutting edge, nor is it necessarily great storytelling. But if you want a solid procedural with easily recognizable characters and a fun case of the week, then The Good Doctor is here for you.
Why wouldn’t I watch another medical dramas instead?
Because of Freddie Highmore’s performance. Shaun Murphy is something of a caricature — so far, he conforms to most TV stereotypes about people with autism (this show is not the show for nuance) and we’ve seen snippets of his troubled childhood — but Highmore has enough charisma to make him compelling. Again and again, The Good Doctor puts Highmore in ridiculous circumstances and he doesn’t blink. Freddie Highmore is a national treasure, except he’s British, so I guess they can claim him too.
Wait, does this Good Doctor bear any relation to the 2011 movie The Good Doctor?
It does not. Though this Good Doctor does star a British actor playing a doctor, this Good Doctor is not a psycho-sexual thriller. This Good Doctor does not star Orlando Bloom. This Good Doctor was not widely panned and a failure at the box office.
Got it, he’s not the same doctor. But how do we know that Freddie Highmore’s character is a genius?
I’m glad you asked. When Shaun Murphy thinks really hard about things, ideas and sometimes bodily organs float past him onscreen. It’s wild.
Tell me more about these ridiculous cases of the week.
The great thing about The Good Doctor is that it has no problem offering up insane medical cases and pretending it’s the kind of normal stuff you might find in a hospital. In the first six episodes alone, the good doctors on this show have done everything from operating on a liver on a freeway overpass to saving a porn star from losing feeling in her genitals and healing a burn victim’s wounds with tilapia skins. Because all of the characters are surgeons, there’s usually a significant amount of blood and gore involved, which makes The Good Doctor a regular source of gruesome imagery.
Network TV viewers like gore?
Hey, it works for NCIS and Law & Order.
But why are so many people watching this show?
Seriously, the people love Freddie Highmore! The people also love predictable TV dramas. Speaking as a fan myself, there’s something comforting about a show that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. There are hardly any twists. You can predict who’s going to live or die by the time you’ve hit the first commercial break. There’s usually some comfortable lesson about learning to communicate with people. Richard Schiff drinks an iced coffee. Two of the indistinguishable hot background doctors have some romantic drama. Antonia Thomas vents some frustrations at the world. Wham, bam, you’re done for the week. Think of it like a weekly meditation session, 43 minutes in which absurd things happen and then resolve — unlike real life, where absurd things happen and then just keep happening. The people on The Good Doctor are nice, decent, sincere, and they fix things for a living. What more do you want?
Does that mean The Good Doctor is good?
I’m not going to answer that question.
Should I watch it?
That’s really for you to decide. The Good Doctor airs at 10 p.m. on Monday nights on ABC.