Okay, it’s been three episodes now. No more stalling, I’m writing this.
I watched Young Sheldon and the pilot episode of The Good Doctor back to back the day they were available online. While I was able to write about Young Sheldon the next day, The Good Doctor required more time to process and think about. I also wanted to give the Autistic Community time to watch and comment on it, in case I was missing something.
I read in a review that the writers/director specifically said that they did not want their show/character to become the face of autism. Yeah, you don’t get to decide that with still so few representations of the spectrum in media. Especially when the autistic character is the main character, and the whole show revolves around talking about it. That’s going to be a given until autistic characters have reached the same saturation as gay and African-American characters. Until that day, I’m going to be judging every show by asking two questions: does it portray autism accurately, and does it help or harm the public understanding?
1st Episode: Hey, I like this show! Don’t get me wrong, the ableist bull shit “hiring an autistic doctor would make us better people” speech annoyed the crap out of me but I loved that here is not just an autistic character as DSM checklist and nothing else, but he is a character with depth! They’re exploring his history of abuse and giving him reasons for being different that isn’t just explained away by autism: yay!
I felt the actor was giving an incredibly subtle and nuanced performance. I thought the prejudice and all around jerkishness was also realistic and should be shown so maybe people would get that this exists and it is not okay.
I really like Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism’s review of the pilot.
2nd Episode: Aw, crap, they’re going to turn this into a stereotype of the week show. Also, Dr. Murphy is written like he’s a child, not an adult. There is no way he would only after how many years of medical school be only now discovering concepts like sarcasm and proper bedside manner. I get that they’re putting it in there to explore his autisticness but it’s insulting and annoying.
I thought NOS Magazine’s review of episode 2 by an autistic person was really good and through and I will be reading ever episode review they do for this show now.
3rd Episode: Hey, it’s not turning into a stereotype of the week, exactly. That’s encouraging. I think it also showed something important that not many people outside of the community know: functioning labels are bunk because how well an autistic is “functioning” or passing enough as “normal” varies depending on the day and the circumstances. And they actually showed that! People might not realize what they were seeing, but it was there.
Overall I am cautiously optimistic. It’s been harder to find information on autistic input on this show than it was for Atypical, though there is some evidence that at least some actual autistics were consulted. Speaking of which, one of the directors on The Good Doctor worked on Atypical. They’ve also partnered with Autism Speaks which isn’t great and is probably why we should expect to see more bunk like episode 2. Do I think autism is being portrayed accurately, with the obvious qualifier that autism is different for every individual? Moderately well; better when they’re writing him as an adult instead of an oversized child. Does it help or harm the public’s understanding of autism? That remains to be seen. But I have bigger hopes for The Good Doctor than for Atypical.