The Good Doctor 2017 show has been the season’s greatest breakaway success—and now it has brought awards recognition to its under-recognized star.
On Monday morning, Freddie Highmore received the awards recognition that has long and unjustly eluded him; the actor was nominated for a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor in a television series, drama.
For all of his time as Norman Bates in A&E’s Bates Motel, Highmore was passed over by every prestigious awards show, receiving not one nomination for a Globe or an Emmy. Now that he’s made the move to a huge network and a more traditional show, still, Highmore’s talents have continued to shine in a more awards-friendly venue—and, clearly, it’s paid off.
It’s also been quite a while since a new series about hospital has successfully launched—but The Good Doctor 2017 full movie has managed to fill that hole for the more than 9 million viewers who stuck around through the show’s first midseason finale. Highmore’s Dr. Shaun Murphy and the staff at St. Bonaventure Hospital appear to be fulfilling a vital role on TV this fall: eschewing TV drama’s grim, prestige-y formulas in favor of something more inspiring and uplifting.
Like most other network hospital shows, The Good Doctor movie features no shortage of borderline ridiculous health complications and solutions; for example, Murphy has found himself operating on a liver freeway overpass. Highmore, on the other hand, anchors the series, and his performance prevents its portrayal of an autistic man from being patronizing or stereotypically emotionless.
The Good Doctor 2017’s exceptional success this fall has been nothing short of overwhelming—and Highmore has always been the central key to it. Even though reviews were middling when the show premiered, most still praised Highmore for his performance as an aspiring doctor with autism.
The show has hit an emotional chord with audiences in the same way This Is Us did in its premiere season last year; like the NBC weepy, ABC’s new hospital drama is about an unambiguously good person trying his best to do good deeds. As executive producer and former Hawaii Five-0 star Daniel Dae Kim put it, Highmore’s Dr. Shaun Murphy is “an anti-antihero”—and clearly, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, at least, approves this.
“The day the rain smelled like ice cream, my bunny went to heaven in front of my eyes,” says surgical resident Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) to the board of San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. He’s explaining his reasons for being a doctor, which is predictably motivated by a death (or in this case two) that he couldn’t prevent. Not that surgery would have helped in either case, but that’s besides the point. And despite the fact that we saw him leaving a home he appears to own to start the episode, Shaun adds, “And I want to make a lot of money so I can have a television,” a forced callback to a comment earlier in the hour.
The board show their best “aw” faces, applaud, and welcome Shaun into the team. As on The Good Doctor full movie, someone with autism is somewhat amazing. Though hospital president Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) makes sure to the board that Shaun is not Rain Man, he soon adds, “he is high-functioning, and he has savant syndrome with genius-level skills in many areas!” So in case you were worried that someone who might seem different may also act differently and challenge your world view, thankfully he’s a once-in-a-generation genius, but a childlike one so he’s not too intimidating.
To the series’ credit, Freddie Highmore is perfectly cast as Shaun, as Highmore is brilliant at playing characters who are uncomfortable in this world. As Norman Bates on Bates Motel, he was a strange though likable guy who, yes, was also a murderer, but in his defense he didn’t realize he was one until late in the series. Playing Shaun Murphy, Highmore is still stilted and awkward (intentionally so on both accounts), as he navigates a new job at the hospital and everything that comes along. The Good Doctor full movie does admirable work of briefly showing Shaun’s discomfort at the crowd and the noises of a busy airport, but once he’s focused in on saving a young boy’s life he’s completely at ease.
Yet, the show keeps Shaun being an outsider who ought to constantly prove himself to a tropey group of unlikeable doctors who are all screwing with one another (because of course, this is a medical drama on broadcast TV).
Outside of Shaun’s story, though, everything is boilerplate with exposition out the wazoo. Throughout, “Burnt Food” obviously telegraphs every plot point (save for one real surprise that elicited a shriek of inappropriate laughter from me due to how badly it’s done), and gives Shaun a twinkling soundtrack to back up the series’ apparent assertion that autism is such a whimsical state of being.
Autism also, clearly, makes you a purveyor of painful truths obviously communicated at crucial moments, like when Shaun faces the head of surgery (Nicholas Gonzalez) to close the episode by asking “You are very arrogant. Does he help you be a surgeon? Does it hurt you as a person? Is it worth it?” Viewers, are you paying attention? If not let’s make desperately sure that you understand this is a haughty surgeon who might be compromising his personal life in the name of work — do you see? DO YOU SEE?
We are left with this koan of consideration as the credits roll, and not a moment too soon. Despite attempting to be some kind of House and Doogie Houser hybrid, The Good Doctor movie lacks the wit of the former and the charm of the latter (though it does include some decent onscreen anatomy animations). I could go on and on about the the leaps of logic and more ridiculous moments of the pilot, as well as the scene when a doctor literally gives a dictionary definition of autism out loud to everyone, but I’ll spare us all.