It shouldn’t be surprising that David Shore, creator of House, would bring us another hospital-centric drama focusing on an unusual physician, or that such a show would suffer from some of the same flaws. The Good Doctor opens with a pilot that sets the establishment tone by way of the “trial” involved in getting our “good doctor” hired at a hospital. It’s a decent trick for cramming a lot of detail into one episode within a sensible framework, because the hospital’s President, Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff), has to put forward the case for Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), an autistic genius.
As we enter the show, Dr. Glassman has already hired Shaun, but the board has decided that the case needs review, and ultimately their approval. This is in large part due to the objections of Dr. Horace Andrews (Hill Harper), who not only thinks that having an autistic surgeon is a horrible idea, but also wants Dr. Glassman’s job. The board’s decision gives us a chance to run through Dr. Murphy’s CV, as well as learn a lot about his early life, because Dr. Glassman has known him for many years. Of course, we’re meant to ignore the idea that Dr. Murphy obviously has every qualification of any other surgeon the hospital might hire, and thus the massive lawsuit the hospital would face if they suddenly decided to unhire him now.
Meanwhile, Dr. Murphy, making his way to the hospital, happens to be around when a young boy is injured in an accident. His efforts to save the boy will eventually become part of the board’s decision, and because we’re pretty sure there will be more than one episode, he gets the job.
The show delivers a challenge in its most basic premise, but in today’s market it apparently doesn’t feel confident with that much drama and manufactures plenty more. Genius or not, diving into the realm of an autistic person as surgeon is more than enough to work with. That is to say, it could take place in the real world. Other surgeons, for example, are going to have concerns without having to also be assholes. Take as a key note one of the last lines of dialog from the pilot which finds a surgeon talking to Dr. Murphy about how he felt the first time he was involved in a surgery. He only offers up that line so that it can make him seem like that much more of a bastard when he follows it up with some bad news for Dr. Murphy. It’s a laughable line that no one would ever actually say except maybe in a western from the ’40s or a Bond film. It’s a silly spin, and one that hopefully the show will move away from quickly.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the nicest surgeon in the world would, hopefully, would have a lot of questions and be extremely hesitant to get on board here without a lot of convincing, so why does the show magically take place in a hospital populated by jerks? Well, mainly to throw a lot of dramatic nonsense into the fray, but, I suppose, also because people think surgeons are all arrogant bastards.
Worse still, being autistic is probably enough “drama” for one show, but Dr. Murphy didn’t just grow up autistic, he has a lot of other baggage dogging him as he tries to take on this monumental challenge. Sure, it works itself into the speech he uses to convince the board to let him join the hospital, but it’s overkill.
Such problems aside, the show has a lot going for it, and a solid performance by Highmore is just the start. There’s a lot of potential for a new take on examining the world of medicine and the many conflicts that arise within that world, as long as we don’t dip it in too much sugar. If you read between the lines the pilot lets you in on the idea that the show has a chance to really capitalize on the setup. Dr. Murphy gets to have his “House” moments, complete with his mental projection overlay, and he has a tricky road ahead of him that could make for some interesting conflict.
Of course, House eventually became a certain kind of gag, because no matter how many times House was right about things, each new episode found him doubted by those around him almost as if he had just walked in the door. Now we have a show that perhaps builds in a justification for running with that same idea, but at the same time one that make such a move a bit offensive and easier to notice.
The real trick of this show is simply whether or not Highmore can pull in audiences enough to overlook the black hats and come back for more. If the show makes it through six or seven episodes with a decent audience it will be because it settles into the inherent difficulties of the undertaking and has the surrounding doctors chill out and/or come around to supporting Dr. Murphy. That, or it’s going to amp up the silly antagonism and keep spitting out dialog no one would say, and catch a lot of Scandal fans.
If it goes the right way, this will turn into a 9 of 10 pretty quickly, but if it doesn’t right itself it will become unwatchable.