Fall TV Preview

How ABC's Fall Drama The Good Doctor Handles Its Lead Character's Autism

Autism is a tricky subject to depict correctly, but ABC’s new fall medical drama The Good Doctor isn’t shy about tackling it head-on.

Based on a South Korean drama, Doctor stars Bates Motel alum Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon and autistic savant who joins the staff of a prestigious hospital. But the hospital’s board members worry that Shaun’s lack of communication skills could make him a liability in the operating room.

The Good Doctor ABC Freddie Highmore“There’s going to be people who think he doesn’t belong there for a while. He’s going to have to prove himself,” creator David Shore (House) explained at the Television Critics Association press tour on Sunday. But Shaun’s unique perspective quickly helps him win over his colleagues: “He’s a catalyst for change among the other doctors. His different way of looking at the world will, I think, inspire them.”

Shore and the writers did a great deal of research on autism before shooting, he says: “We saw a lot of documentaries. We consulted with people. We have people on the spectrum who we’re working with.” But he cautions that Shaun is “a very specific character. He’s not there to represent autism.” Highmore adds that “it would be impossible… and a somewhat rude thing to say that this character will represent [all autistic people]. Hopefully, he will speak to everyone with differences… he’s not solely defined by his autism.”

Autism can affect a person’s motor skills as well, which could make being a surgeon difficult for Shaun, but Shore says that “his fine motor skills will prove to be quite capable. The real challenge will be his communication skills… He can be right, and fail in communicating the information, which is crucial. There will be consequences for him not following protocol.”

So does Shaun have anything in common with another Shore creation: cranky, antisocial physician Dr. Gregory House? “The characters ultimately couldn’t be more different,” Shore insists. “Yet they’re, in a way, asking many of the same questions. They’re asking why we do the things we do.”

The Good Doctor premieres Monday, Sept. 25 at 10/9c on ABC.

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  1. ReneCat says:

    Why is this in Kiefer Sutherland news on IMDb? I know the show is on ABC but ….. so what?

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      Rene, I would strongly advise you to direct your (repeated) concerns to IMDb. We have zero say in how they ingest content. Thank you. –Mgmt.

    • dragenphoto says:

      Because there’s a Designated Survivor mention on the right side of the page. It’s the same reason TVLine’s search is useless.

    • TV Gord says:

      I actually find TV Line’s search engine quite useful.

      Anyhoo, Keifer also starred in Touch a few years ago, which vaguely “touch'”ed on the subject of autism, so maybe the algorithm picked up on that.

      • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

        It’s no accident that TVLine has won the TV News Site Search Engine Awards (casually known as the TNSSEAs) four years running!

  2. Alinea Turner says:

    As someone with autism, I’m very excited for this show! I was worried about how the showrunners would deal with the subject, but I’m impressed to hear about all the research they’ve done–and the trailer looks awesome.

  3. TV Gord says:

    I am really looking forward to this show! Freddie is great, and David Shore has never let me down (outside of his interviews; for a writer, his grammar is embarrassing).

  4. Joey Padron says:

    Really looking forward to see the show and see Freddie back on TV!

  5. Anne says:

    Could have cast an autistic actor in the friggen lead role. If you’re working under the premise than an autistic man can be a doctor, then an autistic man can act like a doctor. It’s just so offensive to not cast a person on the spectrum.

    • TV Gord says:

      Either you don’t know anyone on the spectrum, or you don’t know the pressures of turning around an episode of television.

      • Anne says:

        Actually, I work in the Canadian tv industry and I am quite involved with the autism community (two of my cousins are autistic, so I’ve grown up as an ally). For you to insinuate that an autistic actor would ‘slow down’ the production of a tv show, that is incredibly ableist. Using lines like that allows us to continue to cast neuro-typical in spectrum roles, or ablebodied actors in roles of disability, etc etc.

      • gingertabby says:

        TV Gord: I am autistic and I also was an actor when I was younger. Anne’s question bears repeating – why is the lead being played by a neurotypical person? These aren’t the days where Laurence Olivier blacked up to play Othello. It shouldn’t have to make national news in the UK when someone who is actually autistic finally gets to play the lead in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.If you want authenticity, get the real article.

        • Calla says:

          Why should they limit themselves to choosing from only a small portion of the acting community? Maybe it might be more authentic if an autistic person would be playing the lead, but then again, maybe it wouldn’t be. A lot of the characteristics of being autistic are things we do naturally or subconsciously; having someone do it on purpose as part of a character might actually look quite forced on screen.
          I think they (the producers) chose the actor they thought was best for the role, and I would be quite disappointed if they did anything else. I mean, would you rather they pick someone simply based on their autism rather than their ability to play the role? Not saying that I think someone with autism isn’t a good actor or wouldn’t be right for the role, but I think it’s wrong to focus on things like a diagnosis when choosing an actor.

          • gingertabbyuk says:

            Do me a favour – replace the word “autistic” with the word “black” or indeed, any other minority group you wish. Would you still find what you said acceptable? Being autistic isn’t about having a diagnosis, it’s about who we are as people.

        • TV Gord says:

          If an actor with autism can play a lead in 22 episodes of a TV series, I’m all for it! I look forward to that! I honestly do. :-)

          • gingertabbyuk says:

            Thank you TV Gord, we face a lot of discrimination based on misinformation. While not all autistic people can deal with the gruelling job of acting, neither could many neurotypical people. It’s a unique occupation with very specific requirements. Not many people are up to filling those boots.

          • TV Gord says:

            I believe you are exactly right, gingertabbyuk! I appreciate you for understanding my comment, not as an insult, but as a sincere comment. My life has been made better by experiences I have had with a couple of people whom I know with autism, and I had them in mind when I made my observation. As we all know, autism is a spectrum. Perhaps I haven’t had the benefit of knowing people on the spectrum who could handle the pressures of starring in a TV series, but I also know many people who aren’t diagnosed with autism who couldn’t handle it, either. Actually, the more time I spend with my friends/loved ones with autism, the more I start to see that we could all be represented on that spectrum to one extent or another.

          • gingertabbyuk says:

            LOL, that’s one thing about many autistic people – we tend to take people at their word. There’s a saying in the autistic community – If you’ve met one autistic person, then you’ve met one autistic person.:)

          • TV Gord says:

            Hahaha! Exactly!

    • jag says:

      At the end of the day this is still a TV show. it would be grate to cast an actual autistic actor. But it’s not how TV series work. Most of the show is a reflection of reality or fantasy. That is why they cast good actors like Freddie to capture the essence of the written character. Also as mentioned, the character is not only defined by his autism, it is just a part of his identity.

      • jag says:

        Sorry I mean great.

      • Anne says:

        Attitudes like this is what makes change never happen. To just accept things as they are stagnates society. To shrug and be like ‘it’s just a tv show’. If tv is like you said, just a tv show, then it shouldn’t matter if they cast an austistic actor. Cause it’s just a tv show right.
        Also, “just part of his identity”??? Autism isn’t like being vegan or loving the colour red; it’s not just part of an identity, it shapes who the person is in an all encompassing way. It affects how they interact with the world and what barriers are put in front of them by society. It is as influential on the identity of a person as race and gender.

  6. LaTigreBlue says:

    The Korean version was amazing. Looking forward to this.

  7. Max says:

    Hasn’t this already been dealt with on Chicago Med? Not that it can’t be explored fully with the central character instead of a secondary character.

  8. Storm says:

    If this will be close to the South Korean original, it will be really good.