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The Good Doctor would really like to make you feel good. And that’s not always a good thing.
ABC’s new medical drama (Monday, 10 ET/PT, ** out of four) follows the titular Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel), a young surgeon who has autism and savant syndrome. His autism makes him a hard sell to join the surgical staff at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital, where the board is wary of hiring him, but hospital president Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff) is determined to have him on staff.
Created by David Shore (House) The Good Doctor has all the typical beats of the medical procedural down, including heart-tugging emotional moments, life-and-death drama and the miraculous save. The premiere episode also plants the seeds of sexual and romantic drama among the overly attractive surgical staff.
Like Netflix’s Atypical, another recent series focusing on a lead with autism, The Good Doctor struggles to balance its tone. In an effort to prevent Shaun from being the butt of its jokes Good Doctor leans too far in the other direction, venturing into mawkishness when it comes to his interactions with others. It also does not paint a particularly clear picture of what autism is. A moment late in the pilot verges on being “inspiration porn,” a term to describe finding people with disabilities inspiring only because of their disability.
The series’ tonal issues are complicated by the genre in which Shore has chosen to put his protagonist. The doctor who is good with medicine but bad with people is a trope that was worn out on Shore’s own House. Making that doctor a person with autism verges on making it a cheap gimmick, the latest spin on the standoffish Dr. House.
But still, there are the seeds of a engaging procedural in the pilot, which sets up how Shaun comes to prestigious St. Bonaventure. Highmore remains an appealing young actor to have leading a series, and his interpretation of Shaun gives him room to grow. Schiff has no trouble playing Dr. Glassman, an exasperated elder statesman trying to do the right thing for both Shaun and his hospital, given his…