3.9 million people tuned in to see the return of The Good Doctor this year, which means 3.9 million people fell asleep by the end of The Bachelor and had left their televisions on. However, if you were one of the people who managed to jolt yourself to consciousness and catch a glimpse of Dr. Shaun Murphy trying to sex his neighbor over the phone, then you might have noticed two things. 1) The Good Doctor is an incredibly horny show.
2) The Good Doctor still portrays an incredibly narrow and tired depiction of autism.
It's a character we've seen time and time again. It's Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, Dr. Virginia Dixon from Grey's Anatomy, and maybe a little bit of Dr. House of House and Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes. These are characters with immense genius and photographic memories that would lead damn near-perfect lives if only their awkward quirks and blunt honesty didn't keep screwing up their meet-cutes. They're also such total germaphobes, but not in any way that a pair of rubber gloves couldn't fix. In The Good Doctor, this neural atypical genius behavior is characterized as autistic savantism, and if you were to base your notions of reality on TV alone (as many of us do), then you might be inclined to think this is what autism always looks like.
Of course, real autism doesn't work like this. It's called a spectrum for a reason, and savantism represents only a sliver of outcomes. As few as one in 10 autistic persons can be classified as savants, and even then, their talents rarely manifest as neatly as The Good Doctor depicts. Psychiatry resident Physician Dr. Christy Duan points out that 'such representations do a disservice to autistic people by creating the new myth of the "model neurominority."' She goes on to say:
The Hollywood production of the "model neurominority" elevates some while excluding others on the spectrum, and creates a mythical autistic superhero who deceives the public by misrepresenting how disabling autism can be in this society. Furthermore, Hollywood depictions underscore the false belief that autistic people only have value if they have savant skills that can benefit non-autistic people, and offset their supposed societal burden.
It's why stereotypes, even positive ones, can be so harmful. If every depiction of a dude ended with them dropping trou and revealing a perfectly sculpted, mountain of an ass, then suddenly anyone who sees your butt might begin to think something is wrong with it if it doesn't look the same way.
But this might be overstating the case. The truth is that lots of people with autism are doctors and plenty of people with autism have high IQs without being savants. Again, autism is a large spectrum of conditions and, according to Darold A. Treffert, M.D. (a consultant on the movie Rain Man,) "whether or not someone with autism could become a doctor would depend on where they fell on the spectrum." It's why the premise of The Good Doctor is so weird. They act as if no one who's ever had trouble connecting to people emotionally has ever been hired as a doctor before.
I don't know about you, but I once had a doctor tell me I needed surgery when "whoops," checks chart, "that was the other guy." Shaun Murphy yelling bluntly about sex will be fine.
In the clip above, you'll also notice that, as Dr. Dollar Shave Club points out, the rationalizations used not to hire Shaun for his disability are the same rationalizations used not to hire any other minority. It's a great point, which is why it's so odd that a show which recognizes this point even exists in the first place. They just took a minority group, slapped the word doctor on the end of it, and called it network television. It's no different than if this show was called "Gay Doctor" and was about a surgeon who relied on gay stereotypes to solve medical cases.
No one in their right mind would find that acceptable. Or, who knows, maybe it's coming to ABC this fall.
Top Image: ABC