Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
The Good Doctor – S1E1 – “Burnt Food”
What’s It About?
Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore,) a pediatric surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, travels to San Jose for a job interview at the St. Bonaventure hospital. The hospital’s board is reluctant to hire Murphy for several reasons, but Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) speaks highly on his behalf. Once the board meets with Murphy and learns why he aspires to be a surgeon, they agree to a six-month term in which he’ll have the chance to prove he can be a vital member of their team.
Before arriving at the hospital, Murphy witnesses a near fatal accident at the airport. Near fatal, because Murphy is able to step in and save the child, at least for the time being. These airport scenes give us an introduction to who Murphy is today, while flashbacks to his childhood begin to fill in some of his, seemingly tragic, past.
As with most series set in the workplace, there are also a handful of supporting characters that round out the cast. Somewhat frustratingly, because of the narrative predictability, most of these characters are either sleeping together or butting heads.
Right from the start, a strong and easy connection can be made with Murphy, because of the speed in which we are placed inside his mind. In particular, the first airport scene does a great deal by focusing in on specific sound effects and concentrating on Highmore’s reactions to them, to truly center us in his POV.
Freddie Highmore was an excellent casting choice for Murphy. Highmore excels at embodying a person who isn’t quite at ease with their surroundings, yet still conveys believable confidence when necessary. If you’ve watched him in Bates Motel, you’ll have an idea of what I mean. Highmore can communicate so much of what Murphy is thinking or feeling, with only a subtle facial expression or slight movement. As of yet, his performance hasn’t strayed into exaggerations or tropes, and hopefully that remains the case going forward.
Though she wasn’t given a great deal of weight to carry in “Burnt Food,” Antonia Thomas is always a delight. Her character, Claire Brown, is interesting, even if it isn’t anything too fresh – she’s not afraid to speak her mind and she’s not the relationship type. But her final interaction with Murphy, where she’s entirely caught off guard, proves there could be a lot more to her, and I hope that’s true.
The pacing is lively, and, aside from a few small interruptions, The Good Doctor knows how to grab and hold an audience’s attention. This show may not make any Top Ten lists at the end of the year, but it’s definitely going to tick the necessary boxes for an enjoyable, if only slightly above average, procedural. If it can shift focus to its characters and their development even just a bit more than in this pilot, it’s sure to find the right balance between serial and episodic elements.
Whenever Murphy is concentrating on a medical task at hand, there are momentary flashes of anatomy illustrations, coupled with descriptive sentences of what’s being shown. The aim here seems to be twofold: put us directly into Murphy’s mindset, while also offering the layman audience enough information to understand what’s going on. Unfortunately, it accomplishes neither. It’s far too distracting, dragging you out of the moment rather than pulling you deeper in. And having to read the descriptions was more of a chore than a worthwhile exercise that heightened the show’s experience.
The dialogue needs work, though I’m inclined to believe this may only be a problem for the pilot. I tend to believe that showrunner David Shore felt the need to be overly expository in certain scenes to ensure that audiences were all on the same page. What people know and don’t know about autism, savant syndrome, and medical jargon in general will be all over the map, so perhaps the pilot needed to explain a lot to get everyone on board. In the future, I do hope the writing shifts into something that trusts its audience a little more, or that it gets better at creating ways of delivering these heavy bits of dialogue in a less lecture-y way.
It’s worth a shot just to watch Highmore in a new show, and I’m hoping the same can be said for Thomas in the episodes to come. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about The Good Doctor, and it’s not going to change the way people think about TV. It could, however, become a very steady and entertaining procedural, as long as it gives the right attention to its characters and relaxes a little on the overly expository dialogue.
Watch This if you Like:
House is the obvious first comparison, both for the shows’ similar packaging and formula, as well as their shared showrunner, David Shore. Fans of Grey’s Anatomy and medical procedurals in general may also find The Good Doctor to be right up their alley.
The Good Doctor Premiere Review Score
The Good Doctor – S1E1 – “Burnt Food” – Starring: Freddie Highmore, Antonia Thomas, Richard Schiff, Hill Harper, Nicholas Gonzalez, Chuku Modu, Beau Garrett