The Good Doctor is the surprise hit of the fall season, but it's not that hard to see why it has resonated with so many people.
It's a feel-good show about an incredibly gifted young doctor who is autistic and has been told practically his whole life that he can't do most things people do. In these trying times, it's inspirational to see him defy the odds, but Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) can't do it alone. That's where The Good Doctor's secret weapon comes in: Shaun's best friendship with his mentor and surrogate dad Dr. Glassman (Richard Schiff).
Glassman is not just the man in the suit that got Shaun a job to prove a point. It turns out he's been there for Shaun during the darkest times of his life, and even if Glassman doesn't fully understand Shaun, he stays in his protege's corner. He's equally willing to defend Shaun as he is to confront Shaun when the latter's obstinance is causing problems. He'll show up in the middle of the night because Shaun can't find a screwdriver, but he'll also push for Shaun to get help when he needs it. Then, of course, there's their shared love football and pancakes that helps anchor their friendship.
It would be very easy for the The Good Doctor to fall into the saccharine trap of having Glassman overly coddle Shaun. Though Glassman is protective of his mentee, he's also wise enough to know that Shaun is never going to learn if he isn't allowed to make mistakes like his peers. When he does step in to help, it's to make sure that Shaun is getting the same opportunities as the other surgical residents, not to make sure that Shaun isn't doing his job by himself. It's important to Shaun that he prove his own abilities, and having Glassman as backup doesn't mean that he has a safety net, which allows Shaun to grow.
In some ways, Dr. Glassman represents the audience; both are fond of Shaun but can get frustrated with his literal translation of everything everyone says to him. Shaun's autism makes it difficult for him to socially improvise, which is not only necessary as a doctor but also as an adult trying to make it day to day. Their long friendship hasn't given Glassman an all-knowing understanding of how Shaun's brain works. So sometimes he loses his temper or pushes a little too hard when Shaun isn't ready, but their ability to have those arguments and come out stronger in the end is what makes their relationship the most heartwarming one on the show.
Their tough conversations aren't always confrontational. Their blunt honesty with each other means they can explain things to each other that might be difficult to share with other people in their life. Since Glassman knows so much about Shaun's past, Shaun isn't hesitant to share things with his mentor, like taking flirting lessons or asking what loneliness feels like. In turn, Glassman isn't afraid to admit that he himself feels lonely sometimes. It sounds like such a simple thing, but that kind of raw vulnerability is actually a rare thing on television and adds to The Good Doctor's magic.
The setting of these heartwarming moments is also important. For the early episodes, Shaun and Dr. Glassman had their candid exchanges over pancakes, which some consider to be the best breakfast food. It is their tradition, which helps audiences to calm down over whatever dramatics took place earlier in the episode. When the episode is particularly dramatic, the Shaun and Glassman interaction is upgraded in sentimental goodness. In Episode 7, after Shaun meets his first autistic patient and has trouble, the two enjoy a football game at the local electronics store. It's good to see Shaun happy, and it seems that he's never happier than when he's hanging out with Glassman.
This is not to say that their relationship is perfect. As Shaun gets more and more confident as a surgeon, he becomes more stubborn about being on his own and making his all of his decisions. We learned in Episode 8 that Glassman lost his daughter when she was very young, and in a lot of ways he's shifted to being overprotective of Shaun, which has begun to cause friction in their relationship. By exploring this divide, The Good Doctor pushes two of its main characters to develop and also deepens the dramatic appeal of the show. It's showing they can tell the truth as much as they can make you feel good.
Troubled times may be ahead as Glassman continues to push for Shaun to get a life coach, and Shaun continues to insist that he's capable of living an adult life on his own, but we have faith these two will find a balance, and that's why we keep coming back.
The Good Doctor airs Mondays at 10/9c on ABC.