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Help Me Judge This Trailer for The Good Doctor, ABC’s Show About a Doctor With Autism

(Content warning for depictions of child abuse in the trailer.)

I’ve been thinking about The Good Doctor all week since ABC released their trailers for the fall season. The medical drama, which is touted as coming from “the creator of House” David Shore, stars the talented Freddie Highmore as a pediatric surgeon with autism and savant syndrome.

The Good Doctor certainly looks like a well-made television show. The actors, like Highmore (Bates Motel) and Richard Schiff (The West Wing), whose narration runs throughout the trailer, are known to be excellent. As Schiff describes some of the conditions of Dr. Shaun Murphy’s autism, we see the world as Dr. Murphy experiences it—an important and instructive point-of-view that has rarely been depicted in media. And we see medical cases as Dr. Murphy sees them, with his unique perspective, and this provides for intriguing TV visuals.

Yet I can’t stop thinking about the trailer, and wondering if The Good Doctor‘s treatment of Dr. Murphy will ultimately feel exploitative. We hear Schiff’s character justify Dr. Murphy’s hiring because “he also has savant syndrome—genius level skills in several areas,” and it makes me pause. An estimated 10% of people with autism have some form of savant syndrome, but depictions of autistic characters skew heavily in this direction. As Indiewire notes, “The first glimpse of Highmore’s character hints that they’re toeing the line between presenting a thoughtful depiction of his condition and using his perceptive abilities as a kind of secret weapon.”

We are clearly meant to be in awe of Dr. Murphy’s abilities that the others in the hospital can’t grasp—but I dislike the way we’re shown Dr. Murphy treated. “Behave yourself, or you’ll be removed from the building,” a doctor snaps at him. Later another tells Schiff, “He’s got a serious deficit.”

Dr. Shaun Murphy is the hero of The Good Doctor, and this is a good thing. I guess I just don’t want him to be a weekly spectacle—denounced and gawked at by naysayers before he saves the day. A similar set-up of genius-level-Doctor-solves-hard-cases worked on House, but Dr. Gregory House was a sarcastic, drug-addicted misanthrope whose caustic personal demons featured into the show as much as his patients. In the trailer above, we see that Dr. Murphy went through what seems an abusive childhood, and while there’s certainly a lot to unpack in this set-up, I can only hope, fervently, that the show is proceeding with sensitivity, caution, and a whole lot of expert consultants.

The Good Doctor is a remake of a 2013 South Korean series of the same name that ran for 20 episodes. I’m wondering if this version can be sustained as long, and if we’ll feel comfortable watching it. “We hire Shaun, and we give hope to those people with limitations that those limitations are not what they think they are, that they do have a shot,” Schiff says in the trailer’s fiery closing speech. While I agree 100% with this sentiment—and thoughtful representation of autism is incredibly crucial—this trailer still has me worried about the choices of representation.

I can’t stop thinking about this, and I’m not sure what to think, so I’m turning this one over to you to help me parse.

(via Indiewire, image: screengrab)

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