The series open up a dialogue about diversity and social expectations (Image via NYPDecipher)

What ‘The Good Doctor’ Means for Diversity in Television

As the first Korean drama to be remade for American television, the show proves that a series can be bigger than its entertainment value.

News & Politics x
The series open up a dialogue about diversity and social expectations (Image via NYPDecipher)

As the first Korean drama to be remade for American television, the show proves that a series can be bigger than its entertainment value.

ABC’s newest medical drama, “The Good Doctor,” is making waves in what I believe are all the right places. If you haven’t heard of or seen the show, “The Good Doctor” follows the life of aspiring surgeon Dr. Shaun Murphy, played by Freddie Highmore, who is also known for his role as Norman Bates in “Bates Motel,” and the obstacles Murphy must overcome in pursuing his career due to his savant autism.

I was ecstatic about the premiere of “The Good Doctor” for three reasons. One, as I am not an avid viewer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” I was incredibly jealous of all the die-hard Grey’s fans who blocked off a portion of their Thursday just to watch the show and excitedly discuss episodes and characters in a secret-society type of way. As an outsider to the world of Grey’s and, honestly, someone who is way too lazy to actually start watching the show from the first season, I was excited to have a medical drama to devote myself to and become a member of the fanatic, binge-watching fan group.

#HospitalPlaylist2 Doctor Squad Sho...
#HospitalPlaylist2 Doctor Squad Shout To PH Fans

The second reason, and possibly why most late-teens to early-twenty-year-olds are watching, is because freaking Freddie Highmore is the star. While I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Freddie Highmore, the fact that this pale-faced British man is the main character sparks my interest because I am curious about the extent of Highmore’s talents as an actor. Child actors such as Highmore, Hailey Seinfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Amandla Stenberg have plastered their faces all over Hollywood, so no matter how hard I try to ignore them, their skyrocketing careers and fame keep them at the forefront of television. As such, the show was a chance to judge the talents of a child actor for myself and, vexingly enough, Highmore is just as good as expected.

The Good Doctor - Official Trailer - Coming to ABC September 25

The third reason for watching the show appeared after the premiere because, unlike the rest of the up-to-date twenty-first century kids, I didn’t know “The Good Doctor” is a remake of a popular a Korean drama until after the first episode had aired. My not-so-guilty pleasure is watching Korean dramas, as they provide all the satisfaction of one hour’s worth of romantic, comedic and dramatic scenarios without the over-the-top angles and production of American soap operas, or the screaming chaos that usually ensues in Latin telenovelas. Plus, Korean dramas are just honest-to-goodness fun to watch. Even more exciting than “The Good Doctor” being a remake of a Korean drama series, the show proves that South Korean culture has seeped into American television, a fact that you can chose to be excited or distressed about. I, on the other hand, chose to use this as a chance to examine the influence of other cultures on the United States and vice versa.

“The Good Doctor”—the Korean version—follows the life of Dr. Park Shi-On who, just like Dr. Shaun Murphy, has savant autism. If that’s not enough to make you suspect blatant plagiarism, consider then the fact that Dr. Park Shi-On had a brother who died, a bunny that was killed by a violent father and gets his first taste of medical experience saving a child injured by glass falling from the ceiling. Yes, it’s true, American director David Shore did not adhere to the college honor policy rules for plagiarism, but why fix something that isn’t broken?

Instead of the question about the originality of the show, what needs more attention is why they decided to create a very tight adaptation of this particular Korean drama nearly three years after the series finale. Could it be the top slot in viewership the Korean drama took over during its debut and maintained for most of the show’s duration? Or could it be the fact that the show had impressive average viewership rankings? Or maybe it was its various awards and nominations, including a popularity award? Regardless of whether these facts have anything to do with choosing to do a remake of “The Good Doctor,” this show makes headway as the first Korean drama remake to air on American television.

On the flip side, Korean television network TVN took the lead and debuted its own remakes of American television series, with “The Good Wife” being the first to air in July 2016, two months after the series finale of the American version. The awkward coincidence that both remakes have “good” in title is a little uncanny, but the cross-cultural influence here is evident.

“The Good Doctor” is a remake of a Korean drama that ended three years ago (Image via DramaWire)

I enjoy the fact that other cultures are making their appearance in the United States through television, but I can’t help thinking this introduction of other cultural perspectives is unavoidable. Consider this: America is a country of immigrants. People will argue over this point until they turn blue, but the idea isn’t without merit: The United States, historically, is a nation colonized by Europeans who weren’t native to the land. As they have lived, procreated and developed a unique culture here, it goes without saying that those born in this country are “American,” but it is not a name earned through direct connection with the land; it is earned through the immigration of the ancestors, either forced or willful, from various foreign countries.

Social stereotypes have been one of the major barriers for different cultural perspectives to be represented in American culture, which is something this adaptation of the Korean drama “Good Doctor” has so graciously and effortlessly broken through. In the wake of recent religious and cultural tensions in America, the question of “What does it mean to be American?” has risen and attracted public attention. American culture is incredibly strong and, as a melting pot, ethnically, racially and nationally diverse.  The language one speaks or the religion he/she practices should not be the basis to determine if a person is American. If it is a matter of culture, then being American means screaming at the top of your lungs for your favorite sports team, drowning your sorrows in comfort food, being outspoken and revolutionary and wanting to fight for and protect your constitutional and God-given rights.

So, allow me to dispel the belief that to be American you have to be an English-speaking, Christian, Anglo-Saxon, because America is not a nation full of one type of person, religion or language, and it will never be. To be American means to be a member of the melting pot, to have mixed ancestry, speak out for your beliefs and go home to binge your current Netflix favorite. If “The Good Doctor”—a Korean drama remake—can be readily embraced, shouldn’t the same be done for the diverse citizens living within this country? I’m excited to devote my Mondays to “The Good Doctor,” and I only hope the exchange and appreciation for different cultures continue to thrive in both media and society.

Writer Profile

Joiya Reid

Georgia Southern University
Spanish and Journalism

Leave a Reply