REVIEW: Highmore a shining diamond in the rough that is ‘The Good Doctor’

The Art of Nerding Out

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The ABC series “The Good Doctor” has been pulling in millions of viewers and soaring ratings. When something is so popular, one may wonder why. What is it about this particular show that people love so much? And thanks to streaming technology, I was able to sit down and check it out from the start.

I wasn’t impressed.

While “The Good Doctor” is far from the worst thing I’ve seen on the big TV networks recently, it is dull, uninspired and formulaic. The characters are, for the most part, cliches you can find in other medical dramas. The stories unfold in a familiar unthreatening way that offers little in the way of surprise or suspense. But it does have one very big thing going for it: Freddie Highmore’s performance as the lead character, Dr. Shaun Murphy.

The series unspools like this: Shaun is young man living with autism. He also has savant syndrome, is extremely intelligent and has an eidetic memory. Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff), the president of a prestigious hospital and Shaun’s benefactor, brings him onto the surgical staff despite the misgivings of hospital officials. As Shaun struggles to acclimate himself, his peers learn to deal with him and the drama unfurls.

This show felt a lot like “House”, if the doctor with all the communications issues was a resident instead of the head guy. Each show we are presented with several situations, and our characters have to roll with a mess of complications before everything is solved. Shaun isn’t as rude or narcissistic as House, but he rubs people the wrong way just the same.

The characters surrounding Shaun aren’t all that interesting. You have Shaun’s boss, Dr. Melendez (Nicolas Gonzalez), an arrogant jerk who tolerates Shaun’s presence. You have Dr. Brown (Antonia Thomas), one of Shaun’s peers and the only one who seems interested in figuring him out. Dr. Andrews (Hill Harper) is another self-important surgeon who has his eyes on Glassman’s job. And there’s Glassman himself, the caring father figure putting his career on the line for Shaun.

Whenever the focus is on one of these characters, it drags. But when Highmore is on-screen, things are much more compelling. Highmore’s performance is the easily the best thing about “The Good Doctor”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some Emmy Award love in his future. Shaun is extremely smart, but equally incapable of functioning. He can get derailed by the most random things, like the sight of a Slushie machine or flashing police car lights. Highmore gives us all this, but he also gives us moments where me know he’s learning, as well as a lot of vulnerability. Shaun is a hard character to put up with, but easy to pull for.

In the end, I have a hard time recommending a show that did so little for me. Despite Highmore’s performance, the interplay between Shaun and Dr. Brown and the very occasional laugh, there wasn’t anything that really help my interest. Nothing that would make me choose “The Good Doctor” over the heaps of other hospital dramas available on TV and streaming services like Netflix. But if you love characters in scrubs spitting out medical terminology and trying to maintain their relationships, “The Good Doctor” fills that prescription pretty well.