This CW show might be trying to make a deeper point than most stuff on the network. But the salacious stuff remains.
Dr. Shaun Murphy’s bedside manner is a little … lacking.
Shaun doesn’t cotton to platitudes or careful responses. Want reassurance? See a counselor. Need a well-timed joke to ease the nerves? See a comedian. Ask him how much time you got, and he’ll tell you—right down to the second. Oh, he’s plenty nice—as gentle a soul, really, as you’d like to meet. But Shaun lands on the autism spectrum. So while he can deal with people, he doesn’t understand them all that well.
But Shaun’s autism comes with a special gift, too: savant syndrome, something that makes him a particularly gifted anatomical fix-it man. Sure, Shaun might not have a great way with people, but when it comes to mucking around in people’s innards—their veins and brains, their lungs and spleens—Shaun’s exactly who you’d want executing those procedures.
It was difficult convincing the good folks at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital that Shaun would be, well, a good doctor. But after several seasons of working out the kinks, Shaun’s become a valued member of the team. Sure, he scares the occasional patient with his frank talk and lack of charm, but then he saves them—and that’s what’s really important.
His fellow doctors have learned to respect Shaun—even like him—complete with all his quirks. Dr. Clair Brown is particularly sympathetic, and she’s been instrumental in helping Shaun acclimate. Shaun’s roomie, Dr. Alex Park, has learned to navigate around his strong and often vocal preferences. (Shaun has learned how to mellow out a little around Alex, too.) Then there’s Dr. Aaron Glassman, who’s known Shaun since he was 14. Without him, Shaun would never have had the chance to land on staff.
Why, the good doctor even has a girlfriend these days: Lea Dilallo has gone from being Shaun’s roommate to his lovemate. That relationship has opened up new worlds for Shaun—and new problems for us.
Let me be honest with you: I get a little sick of so many preternaturally-gifted-but-socially-inept protagonists. We’ve already seen it in Monk. Elementary. Scorpion. Etc. We’ve even already seen a super-talented-but-incredibly-irksome doctor come and go. House, anyone?
But The Good Doctor on ABC feels different to me.
Shaun may be blunt. He dislikes being hugged. But he’s very different from the churlish Dr. House or the irascible Mr. Holmes. Shaun actually cares for people. He may not understand them completely, but he’s as nice and kind as any character I’ve seen on television recently.
That said, the show does have some problems and pitfalls.
Shaun and Lea’s relationship is intimate on every level. The show seems to gleefully leverage it—and Shaun’s habit of talking so frankly about it—for plenty of screen time (though we don’t see anything critical) . Sexual dalliances take place in odd hospital rooms and closets. Bad language can spring up from time to time, and scenes in the operating room (and, sometimes, elsewhere) don’t spare much expense in terms of blood. We see cuts and gashes and organs and goo and lots and lots of hemoglobin.
But despite those admitted excesses, The Good Doctor is, at its core, aspirational television. Shaun and his well-meaning associates try to do the very best job they can every day, even if they differ on how to get there. And in so doing, they encourage us to do the same.
During the first episode, Shaun tells a panel of hospital personnel why he decided to be a surgeon: because he watched his brother (and his pet rabbit) die. “They should have become adults,” he says. “They should have had children of their own and loved those children. And I want to make that possible for other people.”
Good doctor indeed.
It’s early 2020 in the show, and the coronavirus pandemic has hit St. Bonaventure with a vengeance. Doctors treat several patients with COVID-19. They also struggle not just with the disease’s ever-changing profile, but with how to best emotionally help their patients (as well as their frustrated and sometimes grieving families). Meanwhile, Shaun struggles with his personal life: Girlfriend Lea was gone when California’s strict State of Emergency measures were enacted, which means that the two can’t be together—and Shaun’s missing the sex.
I’m not exaggerating. “I miss having sex with you,” he tells Lea over the phone, telling roommate Alex (and his teen son, who’s talking with Dad over the phone) just how much sex he and Lea have. Lea tells Shaun that the two can still have sex—just in a different way. The two connect via the computer when both are alone, Shaun asks, “You’re going to masturbate while I masturbate?” She says yes and tries to engage him in some sexting activity, but Shaun quickly grows frustrated. “I don’t want to pretend to have sex with you, I want to be with you!” he says.
Several coronavirus-infected people come to the hospital for treatment, and we see doctors begin to inflict various treatments on them. (Shaun warns one patient that the tube he’s about to stick up his nose will be “very uncomfortable,” while another doctor installs a ventilator in a sedated woman.) One patient dies: The doctors try to console the patient’s next of kin, who’s standing outside, while still keeping their distance. A man complains of diarrhea.
Someone pours a glass of wine. Dr. Glassman, president of St. Bonaventure, gambles online while he’s stuck at home. A character says “d–n” once, and we also seem to hear a misuse of Jesus’ name.
Shaun recounts the disastrous events of his date with Dr. Carly Lever to his colleagues. Meanwhile, an elderly couple copes with a difficult cancer diagnosis while a young, newlywed couple makes a difficult decision regarding cancer treatments.
Shaun discovers a foot infection that has been infested with maggots on a diabetic patient. During surgery, another patient is left open on the table with most of the organs removed. We see the patient’s spinal cord and arteries still pumping. Meanwhile, the patient’s surgeons are removing cancer from the organs on separate tables. A bride is escorted into the ER, apparently bleeding from her stomach. An unconscious man is wheeled into the hospital on a gurney. A woman gets knocked down, and Shaun fixes her dislocated shoulder on the spot.
When a man with dementia is diagnosed with cancer, his wife must decide between having the life-extending surgery—which would likely worsen his mental condition—or lying to him about the cancer and allowing him to live out his remaining days in peace.
Doctors discuss personal matters during a surgery. Two surgeons put their own, surgical gains over the emotional needs of a patient. Shaun struggles to empathize with his patients and address their concerns in a supportive way.
Adults drink wine at a restaurant. Three couples kiss. An HR representative voices concern when a workplace relationship is discontinued, since she doesn’t believe they are really breaking up. A man believes relationships are more work than they’re worth. We hear “h—” once.
Dr. Marcus Andrews is the new president of Bonaventure Hospital as Season 2 opens, after Dr. Glassman stepped down following a life-threatening diagnosis. Dr. Jared Unger works his last day at St. Bonaventure hospital, and he and Shaun treat a homeless man against hospital policy. Medical residents Alex, Claire and Jessica receive personal reviews from Dr. Andrews, who encourages them to improve as medical professionals.
Three surgeries show a bit of skin as a needle is injected into a man’s back, a woman undergoes open heart surgery and a troubled man’s brain tumor is removed. There’s plenty of blood in each operation and internal organs are visible. Homeless men and women come to a mobile clinic to receive help and most look in need of medical attention.
Medical personnel argue and make snide comments toward one another. A powerful doctor threatens to ruin another’s career. A woman says the word “a–.”
Dr. Murphy, Dr. Melendez and Dr. Browne work together to help a patient who’s been confined to a wheelchair. Dr. Reznick and Dr. Unger compete for a respected spot amongst the medical staff as they help a woman whose various cosmetic implants have been infected. Dr. Andrews wrestles with infertility and his wife’s desire to start a family. Claire’s mom visits the hospital to try and repair their broken relationship.
Dr. Murphy jokes about losing a $300 bet to a roommate, who he later finds has both felony and theft charges against him. He struggles to understand how someone could love him, even with his disabilities.
Claire recalls a time when she was a teen and her mom stole her money and spent it in Reno—bringing back a new boyfriend afterwards. Her mom later apologizes, tells her she’s on mood stabilizers, and then immediately asks for money once again.
Dr. Andrews wrestles with infertility issues, triggering conversations about sex, impotence and sperm count. He and his wife kiss multiple times and drink wine.
We hear the word “h—” twice and we also see a lot of blood and intestines during surgeries. A character denies an affair but admits to gambling. We see a woman’s lower back and a dead woman, lying on a bed. Drugs are administered for medical purposes. Another married couple kiss. Characters play a violent video game and mention that a player could be naked.
In flashback, we see some pivotal moments in Shaun’s childhood. Back in the present, Shaun saves a boy’s life in the airport before traveling to accept his residency at St. Bonaventure. But once there, he realizes that many in the hospital are trying to upend his being hired.
A sign at the airport crashes down, sending shards of glass everywhere—including into that boy. We see a bloody wound on his neck (we’re told his jugular was sliced open) and a piece of glass jutting out of his torso. Shaun pours bourbon on the boy’s chest and on his own hands, relying on the alcohol to sterilize the area before the operation. Shaun then cuts into the boy’s belly and sticks a tube in the wound (though that procedure is mostly obscured). At the hospital, doctors lean over patients with exposed innards. A massive nodule on someone bursts, spewing puss all over the doctors attending the patient.
In another flashback, a man flings Shaun’s pet rabbit against a wall, killing it. (We don’t see the impact, but we do see the rabbit corpse later.) The man also throws Shaun’s brother to the ground after the brother tries to protect Shaun. They both run away, and we see them living in a deserted school bus. Later, Shaun’s brother slips and falls from the top of a train, and he’s shown lying lifeless on the ground below.
Two surgical residents, Claire and Jared, share a bed in an out-of-the-way room—apparently after having had sex. Jared wonders whether they should reveal their relationship to anyone else. “Jared, we don’t have a relationship,” Claire tells him. “We have sex. But if you want to tell people that you’re screwing me, go for it.”
Shaun expresses a belief in heaven, both as a child and as a doctor. Characters say “b–ch” and “d–n” once each, and “h—” three times.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
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