The Good Doctor Episode 1 – Burnt Toast
There have been a lot of television shows and films including autistic characters recently – something I will discuss in the partner piece on ‘Life on Autism’ and one of these shows is ABC’s ‘The Good Doctor’. Based on a Korean drama, it follows Shaun Murphy into his residency at San Jose Hospital.
The episode starts with Shaun preparing his things to leave for his residency. It’s a methodical and quiet start that is then starkly interrupted by the first of many flashbacks. I personally don’t mind flashbacks in television shows, though they do seem to be over-relied upon at times. This one (and many of the following ones) are particularly stark and jolting, starting off with a scene from Shaun’s childhood where he is beaten and kicked by other children before being rescued by his brother.
I don’t think a single one of the flashbacks in the first episode could be described as happy. Many were very dark as we are progressed through Shaun’s pet rabbit being killed by his father, his own abuse at the hands of his fathers, his and his brother’s departure from the family home and then finally his brother’s death. The last of these is particularly unexpected as it comes just before a grand speech that Shaun makes to secure his place on the residency.
The entire episode consists of speeding contrasts between the current day where Shaun saves a young boy’s life, the panel where Shaun’s future is being decided by people who have never even met him and are prejudging him on his diagnosis, and the flashbacks of Shaun’s dark and abusive childhood. It’s also got that Hollywood edge that comes with medical dramas from the US where it tips over into the realm of unrealism at times. The pacing is also quite off. The ending especially is jarring. There is a scene near the end where we are led to believe that a surgeon is going to back up Shaun’s place on the residency based on his performance earlier (which said surgeon also admired). So it’s then really jarring when the episode ends with this same surgeon threatening Shaun and telling him that he’ll only ever be doing suction while he is on his team because he “doesn’t belong here”. It seems like either a giant section has been cut out of the episode or this particular character is very poorly written.
What makes it worse is that the entire episode just suddenly ends about a minute afterwards, just after Shaun has said to the above surgeon:
“I saw a lot of surgeons in medical school. You’re much better than them. I have a lot to learn from you. You’re very arrogant. Do you think that helps you be a good surgeon? Does it hurt you as a person? Is it worth it?”
The writing decisions are very poor at times and it is a little jolting. Overall though, I enjoyed it. What I especially liked is that Shaun – whilst falling into the familiar category of being a young, white male with savant level skills – has more apparent difficulties than many other characters who have appeared on screen recently. His processing difficulties in social situations were painfully familiar, his sensory processing difficulties and the way he processes the world around him was very relateable. I liked Shaun Murphy as a character and I think – for me – that was the most important thing about this pilot. I will be tuning in again next week.