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‘The Good Doctor’ and the Importance of Exploring Humor on the Spectrum

Disability advocate Kerry Magro also weighs in on how the show addresses various issues such as employment for people with autism.

Nicholas Gonzalez and Freddie Highmore, "The Good Doctor"

Nicholas Gonzalez and Freddie Highmore, “The Good Doctor”

ABC

[Editor’s Note: The following contains mild spoilers from “The Good Doctor” episode titled “Point Three Percent.”]

“The Good Doctor” has been seen as an inspirational, feel-good drama, but it’s also surprisingly funny. The humor doesn’t stem from mocking Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), a surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, but it is often involved in how his unique outlook on life is juxtaposed with a mainstream viewpoint.

In a Facebook Live conversation that Highmore had with Autism Society of America, the actor said, “I like the humor of the show. I think a lot of that comes from Shaun’s hopeful, optimistic outlook on life. He always tries to see the good in people. It’s nice to play a role in which you can be happy a lot of the time.”

On the most recent episode, entitled “Point Three Percent,” Shaun is the one earning the laughs — this time, by telling a joke. The incident occurs when his boss Dr. Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) is surprised that Shaun has arrived for work on time and asks, “What did you do: sleep here or use a teleportation device?”

Shaun responds, “I used a teleportation device,” and then later explains, “Nonsensical questions often imply sarcasm, which I found people often answer sarcastically.” Later, he uses this punchline again in a different context and then clarifies that it’s a joke.

It’s clear that Shaun is still getting a handle on other people’s humor as well as developing his own. In the same episode, while working with a particularly funny patient, Shaun starts to pick up on that patient’s personality: “That was another joke, wasn’t it?”

THE GOOD DOCTOR - "Mount Rushmore" - Dr. Shaun Murphy's attention to detail complicates his first day at St. Bonaventure Hospital. Meanwhile, Dr. Claire Browne learns a valuable lesson about honesty when confronted with a difficult diagnosis for her patient. "The Good Doctor" airs MONDAY, OCTOBER 2 (10:01-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eike Schroter)NICHOLAS GONZALEZ, FREDDIE HIGHMORE, ANTONIA THOMAS, CHUKU MODU, ROCKY ANDERSON

“The Good Doctor”

ABC

Shaun appears to fall somewhere in between on the spectrum when it comes to mind-blindness, the inability to understand and anticipate another person’s thoughts or motivations. Sarcasm still confounds him at times, but he can recognize it and respond to it in increasingly normative ways.

IndieWire reached out to Kerry Magro, a public speaker and advocate who has autism, to get his take on “The Good Doctor.”

“Sometimes mind-blindness plays as a challenge for those on the spectrum,” he said in regards to people with autism understanding humor. “That’s why jokes can go over some of our heads at times. Others may have a monotone type personality.

“It’s important to make our society understand that this isn’t the entire spectrum,” he continued. “I have friends, many of whom like myself who are public speakers that love to make people laugh when they are on stage. It’s important to not treat autism as a ‘one size fits all’ disorder.”

Humor in people with autism has been explored more recently on screen, in particular with the Duplass brothers-produced documentary “Asperger’s Are Us,” about a comedy troupe comprising four men on the spectrum.

Magro himself, among others like Temple Grandin, are similarly comfortable with using humor on stage in their speeches. Magro was diagnosed with autism at age 4 and now in his 20s has spoken at over 700 venues, including TED Talks, about disability and bullying-related issues.

Magro had initially reviewed “The Good Doctor” favorably when it premiered and live-tweets each episode. He shared some additional thoughts about the series with IndieWire:

His Overall Impression of the Series

THE GOOD DOCTOR - "Oliver" - Dr. Neil Melendez and Dr. Jared Unger discover their patient isn't being completely honest with them which may cost him his chance at a life-saving surgery. Meanwhile, Dr. Claire Browne must learn to communicate with Dr. Shaun Murphy as they race back to St. Bonaventure Hospital with a donated organ. "The Good Doctor" airs MONDAY, OCTOBER 9 (10:01-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Jeff Weddell)ANTONIA THOMAS, FREDDIE HIGHMORE

Antonia Thomas and Freddie Highmore, “The Good Doctor”

ABC

“‘The Good Doctor’ is doing a fine job. I wrote a review on my personal website that was featured on The Huffington Post, Autism Speaks and The Mighty about my thoughts on the pilot episode,” he said. “So far I’ve been live-tweeting and bringing up conversations with those in our community about autism-related themes we’ve seen in each episode. I’m very excited to see where it goes from here as the spectrum of autism is so broad, meaning there are many topics that ‘The Good Doctor’ can dig in deep too [such as] relationships, employment, etc.”

Freddie Highmore’s Performance

“Freddie has been able to portray several characteristics that can accompany an autism diagnosis including social awkwardness, lack of eye contact, and difficulties with sarcasm among others,” said Magro. “I think the challenge Freddie and the cast will face is to not center all the episodes on these areas but opening up to other traits and characteristics Dr. Shaun Murphy may face. These characteristics relate to much of my experience growing up on the spectrum.”

Read More:‘The Good Doctor’ Boss Defends the Show’s Sentimental Tone: There’s an ‘Honest, Unabashed Emotionality’ to It

Supportive Living

In a recent episode, Shaun’s mentor Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff) encourages Shaun to consider getting a supportive living aide after a particularly stressful night in which he stayed up trying to find a particular screwdriver in order to fix his dripping faucet. Although Shaun adamantly refuses, Glassman says that the conversation has only been temporarily tabled.

Magro tweeted about the issue, which “The Good Doctor” official account also retweeted:

Employment

Hiring Shaun on a trial basis was brought up in the first episode, in which Glassman takes a stand about employing people with disabilities. It’s a topic that Magro has been speaking about recently in conjunction for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Employment is a big topic facing those with autism today as some studies have shown that the majority of adults with autism are either underemployed or unemployed,” Magro said. “All month long we’ve been going into organizations discussing National Disability Employment Awareness Month talking about how employing skilled and qualified individuals with disabilities makes good business sense. To have a character like this spotlighted gives hope to people like my mentees, many of whom are incredibly bright like Dr. Murphy, that they one day can find meaningful employment.”

“The Good Doctor” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. 

THE GOOD DOCTOR - "Point Three Percent" - While in the exam area of St. Bonaventure Hospital, Dr. Shaun Murphy encounters a young patient who looks eerily similar to his deceased brother, Steve. After discovering his parents have hidden his diagnosis from him, Shaun struggles to understand why he doesn't deserve to hear the truth about his own health. Meanwhile, the team can't figure out what keeps triggering their patients' increasingly severe allergic reactions and races to find the cause before the next one kills another patient. "The Good Doctor" airs MONDAY, OCTOBER 23 (10:01-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Jack Rowand)FREDDIE HIGHMORE, DYLAN KINGWELL

Freddie Highmore and Dylan Kingwell, “The Good Doctor”

ABC

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