Entertainment

Lightness buoys The Good Doctor's strength: Schneller

ABC's The Good Doctor is the highest-rated drama on network TV, surpassing even the buzzy This is Us.

Freddie Highmore portrays Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism, in The Good Doctor.

Liane Hentscher / ABC

Freddie Highmore portrays Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism, in The Good Doctor.

The Show: The Good Doctor, Season 1, Episode 7 (CTV/ABC)

The Moment: “You’re like me”

Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), a gifted surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, spies a distressed patient. The young male is blurting sentence fragments and trying to harm himself. Shaun tells the ER crew, “He’s not psychotic, he’s autistic.”

The boy looks up at Shaun. “You’re like me,” he says.

A few scenes later, Shaun explains to the boy that he has to have surgery. “I’m like you,” Shaun says.

But when the boy’s parents learn that Shaun will be assisting in the surgery, they ask, “He’s the same as our son. The same limitations?” They shake their heads. “Under no circumstances will he perform surgery on our boy.”

Suddenly, the boy pipes up, “I want Dr. Shaun.”

The surgery goes well. The boy’s mom hugs Shaun. He doesn’t love that, but he tolerates it, and walks off smiling.

Quite deliberately, this series positioned itself as not-cable: It’s about lightness rather than darkness. Lessons are learned. Shaun’s challenges make him a hero, not an anti-hero.

Highmore is able to keep most of his performance treacle-free. He speaks in a flat effect and avoids eye contact. But he’s allowed those small smiles of triumph, indicating, ‘Hey, we’re all damaged, we’re all underestimated, we can all strive for more.’

That’s the secret of its success. Dark stuff that challenges its audience is dandy, ABC said. But we believe there’s another audience that wants to be soothed and uplifted. And it worked: The Good Doctor is the highest-rated drama on network TV, surpassing even the buzzy This is Us.

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