The Good Doctor EP on season 4's pandemic premiere, Shaun and Lea's romance, and more
Titled "Frontline," the emotionally fraught two-part opener follows Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) and the rest of the doctors across several months as they contend with the devastating crisis and its effects on their lives — from how Shaun and Lea (Paige Spara) handle the separation so early in their new romantic relationship, to Dr. Audrey Lim (Christina Chang) and Dr. Claire Brown (Antonia Thomas) juggling the pressures of the job with the need to grieve Dr. Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez), who died in the season 3 finale. Given that we're still stuck in the middle of the pandemic with no end in sight, the premiere hits pretty close to home. Thankfully, the season doesn't stay in this mode for too long.
In episode 3, the ABC drama turns its attention to some of the season's major storylines. On top of Shaun and Lea's new pairing, the season will explore how Shaun and the other surgical residents handle becoming supervisors with the introduction of some new first-year residents.
"I’m always excited to see Dr. Murphy in a new context, and I know Freddie is, too. So, that’s exciting," The Good Doctor showrunner David Shore tells EW. "And that new context being these new kids, these first-year residents who are where Shaun was three years ago. I think we’ve got some really interesting characters there. I think they’re very real people that the audience will find compelling and enjoy spending time with."
Below, EW chats with Shore about writing the pandemic-centric season premiere and what else is coming down the pike this year.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know we’re still living through the pandemic, but I was surprised by how visceral the premiere felt. What was it like to write this episode and engage with the current situation? Was it hard to navigate those emotions?
DAVID SHORE: When you’re working on something, you sort of put your head down and get to work and there’s this intellectual part of your brain that takes over. You’re aware of the emotional responses — you have to be aware of them and you have to embrace them and you have to be trying to bring them out in the audience — but it’s kind of a detached approach that you have to take to writing. Then it sorts of comes back and hits when you’re watching it. What you said, I’ve been hearing it from so many people in a way I honestly didn’t anticipate.
We were just trying to be honest. We always feel a responsibility to be honest with all of our stories and to not just play into melodrama [and depict] just real people with people problems in real situations, and to embrace that and embrace the story that’s in that week after week. We felt an added obligation here in terms of getting the medicine right — and the medicine was changing constantly — and to accurately portray what so many people are going through right now. So yes, we felt an added weight in that regard. I think the word is "visceral." People watching it, it’s hitting them, I think, harder than an average show because it’s so about what we’re all going through right now.
Which moment hit you in a way that you weren’t expecting when you watched it?
The separation from loved ones, the not being able to be there for people, I think, is where it hit me. In watching it, I realized how much of a theme that was that I’m not even sure I got when we were writing it. But then when you watch it and go, “Oh God, it’s all about separation. It’s all about not being together. It’s all about the frustration that comes with that, the challenges that come with that." Not knowing the answers is there, and not being able to do more is there, but the fundamental issue is separation and the toll that takes.
As you mentioned, the medicine is constantly changing. Did this episode go through more rewrites or updates than usual because of that?
We tried to avoid stuff that might change day-to-day, but yes, there was a fear of that. What we tried to do was we tried to be very honest that we were representing what people were going through at that moment, and that we could be accurate about. Early on, [a character says] “such and such isn’t a symptom,” and then of course, we’ve since learned that that was a symptom. That was kind of the intention in that moment: The doctors are just wrong because they just didn’t know. We tried to put forth the best medicine as it was available at the time, even in terms of things of getting oxygen to people. If you’re looking closely enough, you’ll see the way that is done in the episode changes as time goes by. The doctors got better at protecting themselves and protecting their patients. But it’s a real challenge [because] we’re writing something where we don’t know the end of the story. When we wrote it, we thought it’d be over by now, but it obviously isn’t.
At New York Comic-Con, you said that the pandemic isn’t taking over the bulk of the season. Do you view this two-part episode as a prologue to the new season? Is episode 3 where the new storylines really get going?
These two episodes largely stand on their own, not completely. We will definitely carry stuff forward. The impact of these two episodes on our characters personally will be carried forward. This is the type of thing where it would be simply wrong of us to do it and forget about it. But episode 3 will pick up a little while after these episodes and it will pick up in a world that is not the world we are living in right now, and it is a world that is past-COVID. We’re a little worried about that because we don’t want people to watch and think, “Oh, The Good Doctor is implicitly endorsing people not wearing masks inside.” But we also want the stories we’re telling to stand on their own and not be overshadowed by this pandemic. We wanted to deal with, shall we say, smaller human stories, but very real, very powerful, and very emotional.
What we’re going to do is that there’s going to be a message before each episode for at least a little while after the first two in which we acknowledge this episode is, like the show, about hope for a future where COVID is behind us and to remind people that they still have to take precautions, because that is what we’re doing. We are filming, but boy we’re taking precautions on the set: Testing, masks, distancing. We’ve got several people on our crew right now, who weren’t employed on our crew last year, whose job it is to make sure everybody is complying with the COVID protocol, which is what everyone wants to do but it’s easy to forget. Everything is going well so far.
Last season explored Shaun's first experience with romance. What do you hope to explore through Shaun and Lea’s long-awaited pairing this season? What excites you about these two finally being together?
Yes, finally is the keyword there, I think. [Laughs] We had a wonderful time with Carly [Jasika Nicole] last year, and that was about Shaun dating. I view this more of as Shaun in a relationship. This is not about first date, second date, third date. This is about living your life with somebody. Not that they’re married or anything like that, but their relationship is at a different stage and the challenges of that. We’ll have wonderful moments and challenging moments.
The most recent promo revealed that Shaun and company are supervising new residents, but they have more candidates than spots in the program, which obviously reminded me of House’s Survivor-like game in House season 4. What lessons did you learn or take from writing that season and apply to this one?
[Laughs] We’re not going to be playing the same [game]. You know, on House we went through a whole bunch of episodes where he was just winnowing down the group until he had his winners. It’s less about that. The first episode is a little about that. But after that, it is much less about who is going to win and who is going to lose, but it is about bringing in some interesting people because, similar to House, I think House was at its best when we saw his relationship with people and what that brought out in him and what that brought out in them. So I look forward to doing that with Dr. Murphy and these new people.
But it’s really about: We made a really conscious decision, and I think it was a risky decision to some extent, to not simply [always ask] “Can he do this surgery?!” right from the beginning. We played a little bit of that, [like] “Can he survive? Can he meet this challenge?” We want to move forward with him and grow with him, and see him facing new challenges every year and to some extent every episode. So, he’s no longer a first-year resident. He has proven he can do that. He’s got some weaknesses as we all do and he has some great strengths. But now it’s about a new challenge for him, which is supervising. Can he be a leader? Can he supervise, and given his issues with communication and given his brilliance, how is that all going to shake out?
How are Claire, Dr. Morgan Reznick (Fiona Gubelmann), and Dr. Alex Park (Will Yun Lee) fairing in their new roles?
Well, Morgan, in particular, has a challenge because Morgan actually is kind of in a different specialty now. So, she’s got a particular challenge with that and she’s going to have to deal with that. Park and Claire are also going to have those challenges. We’re also doing some stuff with Park and Morgan’s relationship that I think [the audience] will find entertaining. So yes, all of those things are happening.
How is Claire handling losing Melendez when the season begins?
We’re still exploring that. We’re going forward with that. Claire lost somebody very important. We see the impact on her in episodes 1 and 2, and beyond. Let’s not forget Lim. She lost somebody who was important to her, too. The two of them go through hell in the beginning. We want to explore their relationship. How are they there for each other and support each other through this challenge?
News broke that Melendez's ex Jessica (Beau Garrett) will appear in the premiere. What can you tease about her return?
She will be there, but I don’t want to over-promise on that.
What is Andrews facing this year?
Andrews will develop a connection — has a connection with one of these new residents that will become a pretty significant part of our storylines as we go forward.
The Good Doctor returns Monday at 10 p.m. on ABC.
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