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Monday, August 7, 2017

The Good Doctor and Atypical

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss depictions of ASD in popular culture.  

At Deadline, Antonia Blyth reports on a new ABC series about an autistic surgeon
The Good Doctor has some parallels with the show House, EP David Shore admitted. “There was speculation as we went along about Dr. House and we certainly didn’t shy away from that,” he said. “The characters though ultimately couldn’t be more different.”

Shore was quick to point out that much research and consultation was done before representing a person living with autism. “We saw a lot of doctors, we consulted with people, we’ve got people on the spectrum who we’re working with,” he said. “But he is a specific character, he’s not there to represent autism, he’s there to represent Dr. Shaun Murphy.” 
Dr. Murphy exhibits savant traits, which are a highly unusual aspect of autism, but Shore assured reporters the show would work hard not to contribute to stereotyping. “Savant syndrome is rare, even within the community of people with autism,” he said, “I think it’s a legitimate question, and we want to make sure that we don’t represent him as being representative in any way.”
At The San Francisco Chronicle, David Wiegand takes a skeptical look at a new Netflix comedy
Although Sam (a terrific Keir Gilchrist), the lead character in “Atypical,” is an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, while JJ (equally terrific Micah Fowler) has cerebral palsy on “Speechless,” the two shows not only have similar plot foundations, but one is an example of how to do it right, and the other an example of how to screw it up. 
The comedies share the theme of the adjustments a family has to make when one of its members has special issues. In both of the above-mentioned shows, the sitcom mothers are fierce, domineering caregivers, while the fathers are somewhat more detached. Minnie Driver is a take-no-prisoners mom on “Speechless,” while Jennifer Jason Leigh as Elsa Gardner is her son’s ever-vigilant champion on “Atypical.” Elsa wears the “burden” of having a son with autism on her arm, day and night. She attends a support group, is overly protective of Sam and doesn’t want to face the reality that he’s eventually going to live his own life apart from the family. She wallows so completely in the challenges, real and perceived, of Sam’s autism that she uses them as an excuse for some personal bad behavior that feels completely inauthentic.