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Series that are set in hospitals and the medical field are super popular – Showmax has a handful to choose from (like Grey’s Anatomy Seasons 1-13, House MD Seasons 1-7 and Code Black Seasons 1-2). But there’s one that you really need to watch if you’re interested in a central character and don’t want a file of symptoms, prognoses, diagnoses and prescriptions for each and every doctor character.
The Good Doctor (2017-current, stream Season 1 on Showmax) has one very important “patient”: Doctor Shaun Murphy (played by Freddie Highmore). He’s an autistic savant doctor who simply wants to help heal the sick, wounded and dying. (Check out Freddie’s unsettling portrayal of oddball split-personality serial killer Norman Bates here in Bates Motel).
It was, of course, a challenge to portray an autistic character truthfully and sensitively. Autism is not a simple condition to understand, diagnose or even treat and it affects each person differently. To find out more, visit AutismSpeaks.com.
“There was no hesitation or trepidation [playing Shaun],” explains Freddie. “We all feel a great sense of responsibility to make sure that Shaun is being portrayed as authentically as possible. We have also remained aware that Shaun can never and should never represent the experiences of everyone who is on the spectrum.”
The main man
While he’s a brilliant doctor with a photographic memory and perfect recall, Shaun’s autism makes it incredibly difficult for him to interact on a social level with people. He doesn’t catch on when there’s sarcasm or someone tells a joke as part of conversation. Everything is serious in his mind and he computes interactions on face-value rather than by social norms. So while ordinary people say “hi” as a greeting, Shaun perceives it as “high” and he will say something like, “I am 5 ft 8 tall. High is an incorrect term.”
But it’s this seriousness and innocence that sets Shaun apart not only from his colleagues but also doctors on other shows. His world has order and structure. He brushes his teeth in a specific sequence at the same time every morning and night. He irons his clothing in the same direction every time. He can only eat an apple if it has perfect skin and no blemishes. He is never late. Everything is ordered and organised, and he struggles to cope when there’s deviation or disruption.
“He is learning what defines him beyond his autism,” adds Freddie. “He has his own idiosyncrasies and ways of doing things. A documentary that I found incredibly useful – Autism In Love – what’s great about it and what we have tried to do in the show is that it focuses on not merely the potentially negative experiences that people on the spectrum have in their daily lives but on the positive ones and celebrating the way in which Shaun for example thinks differently.”
While Shaun is very much the central figure, he gets the right amount of help from his colleagues who’re made up with a standard series formula. There’s the supportive co-worker Dr Claire Brown (Antonia Thomas), the mentor Dr Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff) who sees Shaun’s potential to change the hospital, the opposing boss Chief Of Surgery Dr Marcus Andrews (Hill Harper) who doesn’t see the benefit of having Shaun on the team, as well as the department head Attending Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) who puts up a wall for Shaun to climb over and prove himself as a doctor.
These characters are all in place to help Shaun grow and become a leading surgeon. Even the ones who try to hold him back quickly discover that he is smarter and more capable than they are – even if he is a little socially awkward.
“When I read the script, I was hooked,” explains Hill. “TV is writing. If you don’t have the consistency, you don’t have the cast to pull it off, you’re not going to enjoy doing it. And there’s no way that you can figure out a way to elevate it. And there’s no way that it’s worth doing. This is.”
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