I've been hate-watching The Good Doctor this season, catching up after a few episodes and then doing the old-fashioned thing, picking them off week by week.
To be clear: I haven't had cable in years. I'm a rare network watcher, at least since 30 Rock wrapped up, and I've been pretty resistant to that kind of television. The big network shows of the past decade are mostly unknown to me (Gray's Anatomy, CSI Whatever, any reality show ever, etc.). This has nothing to do with quality, just convenience and interest.
Some of the cable offerings, I've watched (e.g., Mad Men), but I stream them, usually buying a season pass from Amazon if I get hooked. These are rare, though, and aside from the occasional fellow traveler I run into online, I don't share so much. Who needs another show to watch? We live in our bubbles, and nobody has the time. Sorry, Dr. House. You were unknown to me.
What I do watch are usually comedies, actually. Sitcom format, and most of these are either basic or premium cable offerings. Better Call Saul. Silicon Valley. Veep.
So, The Good Doctor is out of character for me. It's a network show, filled with network money and glamor, buffed up and shiny. Hardly Saul Goodman's world.
ButThe Good Doctor's hook is an autistic savant, a resident surgeon who is remarkably talented and yet remarkably disabled, played by Freddie Highmore, a good young actor.
An actor who it would appear has never met an actual person on the actual autism spectrum, since he sounds like a robot. Having been around a number of people on the spectrum for over 20 years (including my son), I was skeptical and a little irritated. The guy sounds like Siri.
But damn, he's a compelling actor and character, and I kept watching, understanding that shows take a while to gain their feet. He doesn't seem so jarring lately, either my acclimation or his adjustment, and the stories, as formulaic and tidy as they have to be, are actually interesting.
And this past week, it was remarkable.
The primary storyline dealt with a teenage girl who comes in with stomach pain, which she minimizes but which concerns her grandmother (a really nice--and surprising--performance by JoBeth Williams). On the preliminary examination, the doctors discover that she has male genitalia. Not a hermaphrodite. A boy.
A trans teen, an oddity of human existence that has been around most of my life. I saw a coworker begin transitioning when I was 20 years old. It was strange but lots of things are strange. I never doubted that it was a real thing, and having an interest in biology it seemed clear that there are all sorts of confusing things about how we identify and feel.
Anyway, it was a simple and powerful primer for those who wonder, using this concrete-thinking, neurologically-challenged genius as a concept trampoline, allowing him to spin in circles with the absurdity he saw, giving his coworkers space to carefully help him understand. It was valuable as well as entertaining, and I was impressed.
But wait, there's more.
A secondary plot line dealt with a teacher, a single father of two little girls who is brought in with an infection. It turned out he was abusing antibiotics, taking whatever he had in the medicine chest to try to stave off illness, unable to afford to lose time.
The risks of this are well publicized and have been for years, but I was surprised at how easily the show emphasized this in the midst of storytelling. He ended up with an infection that no drug could touch, and it's hard to watch without ending up with a great example of the consequences.
I'm still capable of surprise, then. The Good Doctor isn't a prestige show, certainly not on a level with Breaking Bad and The Sopranos and dozens of others that have cropped up in the past 20 years.
But it has quality, and heart, and good acting and decent writing, and you could knock me over with a feather. It actually might do some good.