NEW YORK - Some three and a half million Americans have some form of autism according to The Centers For Disease Control, and yet those with autism are rarely depicted in TV shows. ABC is looking to change that with "The Good Doctor" which stars a gifted actor who really did his homework.
Freddie Highmore, the British performer who won our hearts playing the inspiration of "Peter Pan" opposite Johnny Depp in "Finding Neverland," stands at the center of the new drama created by David Shore, who gave us the TV series "House."
Medical dramas are as old as TV itself, but what makes "The Good Doctor" different is his autism, says the man who plays "Dr. Sean Murphy."
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"We don't negate the very real struggles that Sean faces by having autism, but at the same time we see him laugh," says Highmore. ""We see what makes him smile. We see, we understand his sense of humor, and so it's a fully formed character as opposed to just that small narrow stereotype."
The pilot episode demonstrates his challenges and skills. Sean also has savant syndrome, Freddie told me when I talked to him in LA.
"And so he has genius level that allows him to see things that other people can't in diagnosing medical issues," Highmore said.
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Before "The Good Doctor" ever gets to the hospital where he is starting as a resident, he saves a boy's life in an airport terminal, but once he arrives at his new place of employment, not everyone is convinced a guy with autism should operate!
Nicholas Gonzalez, who plays his boss says, "We have to kind of face-off in the way we see things: me trying to bring him around to a surgeon, and possibly him bringing me around to understanding and seeing the world a little differently."
The "Good Doctor" is all about bringing more diversity to prime time.
"This idea of somebody with a difference trying to fit in," says Antonia Thomas, who plays another surgical resident. Thomas adds, "The fact that people discriminate, will discriminate, and do discriminate against him and that's really interesting."
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To close on a personal note, "The Good Doctor" struck me as particularly worthwhile because my cousin is autistic.
I still remember the moment when after many decades he looked me in the eye for the first time when we were young adults. Today, he a very successful dealer of rare coins, and the fictional TV show celebrates the achievements of real people along the spectrum of autism.