On the final day of New York Comic Con, The Good Doctor creator David Shore joined his cast to tease the show’s Season 4 return and its two-part premiere, “Frontline,” centered on the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conversation with actors Freddie Highmore, Antonia Thomas, Christina Chang, Hill Harper, Will Yun Lee, Fiona Gubelmann and Paige Spara, and executive producer Daniel Dae Kim, Shore explained, in depth, the thinking behind his choice to tackle COVID-19 head on. “It would’ve been so false, I believe, to not deal with it…This has taken over every aspect of our lives for an unbelievable amount of time. The world hopefully will go back to what we viewed as normal, but it just would have been dishonest not to deal with this story,” the creator said. “Having said that, it is an incredible story. We’re a show about regular people that do heroic things. The impact [of COVID-19] is incredibly dramatic, so we wanted to dramatize it.
“To be a [medical] show in 2020 and have the worst pandemic in a century hitting us, it only seems right that we would address it in some way,” added Dae Kim. “I think everyone is looking at our front line workers and seeing them in a whole new light, and that’s something that can only help our show. Because that’s in line with how we see our cast—as heroes.”
For Shore, figuring out the best way to handle a pandemic in the context of a fictional series proved a challenge. Ultimately, it seemed right that the first two episodes would tackle the coronavirus, while the rest of the season would not—at least, not quite so directly. “On the one hand, we need to deal with it, and do it in an honest but entertaining way. But we’ve been living with this so much for the last six months…I do think we have a responsibility, as entertainers, to provide a little bit of an escape,” he explained. “So, the rest of the season will not be about COVID. It will be returning to the stories that we tell, the stories of life, of ethical choices and these characters in life-or-death [moments].”
Naturally, much of what’s to come in The Good Doctor Season 4 stems from the dramatic two-part finale of Season 3, which saw a massive earthquake hit San Jose. The disaster and subsequent events resulted in Dr. Melendez (Nicholas Gonzales)’s death, Dr. Park (Yun Lee)’s decision to relocate to Phoenix, and Dr. Reznick (Gubelmann)’s potential inability to continue practicing as a surgeon, after pushing through an emergency procedure with her rheumatoid arthritis. Notably, the episodes also saw the romance between Shaun (Highmore) and Lea (Spara) finally come to fruition, following seasons of “Will they or won’t they?”
Certainly, the loss of Dr. Melendez will continue to weigh heavily on the doctors of San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Interestingly, in Season 4, it will lead to an evolving friendship between Drs. Lim (Chang) and Browne (Thomas)—colleagues of Melendez, who shared a romantic relationship with him, at different points in time. “I think it’s extremely upsetting for both of them. They loved him, and were loved by him, in different and similar ways,” said Chang. “For Dr. Lim, it has impacted her [while] dealing with COVID. So, I think because she’s in the position she is, being the Chief of Surgery, she doesn’t get into how she feels about that, at least straight away.”
While Melendez is gone, heading into Season 4, Highmore left the door open for the character’s return, in one form or another. “It’s a loss that will be felt across the entire hospital. [But] I’d like to stay hopeful that even though Dr. Melendez is no longer with us on the show, he will still be very much a part of it,” the actor said. “His presence will still be felt, and maybe we’ll get to see him again at some point. You never know.”
Following their discussion of Melendez, the Good Doctor cast members weighed in on where each of their characters is headed. At the beginning of Season 4, Yun Lee said, Dr. Park is going to have to make a difficult decision, pertaining to COVID-19. “It’s probably a decision that a lot of people on the front lines make,” he said. “Do you keep going into helping patients in an emergency room setting, knowing you have to pray you don’t give it to your own family?”
In terms of Dr. Reznick’s injury, and the future of her surgical career, Gubelmann said we should be very concerned. “[Reznick] suffers a big loss in Season 3, and I think hope and purpose are really what help us get through these times,” the actress said. “So with Morgan, I think she’s such a great character to really explore what it’s like to lose your purpose, and how you pick yourself up and move forward, and rebuild a future.”
Then, of course, there was the subject of Shaun and Lea’s relationship. For Shore, Season 4 like an organic moment for the relationship to become official, and evolve in complexity in ways it hadn’t before. “We just want to keep exploring Shaun in different situations,” the Good Doctor creator said. “We felt this was the time for Shaun to be in a relationship, and learn what it’s like to love, and the challenges of love, and for him to bring his unique perspective to that, as he has to everything else.”
As Highmore noted, Shaun had gone through a major personal evolution just to get to the point of his relationship with Lea. “So, we start Season 4 with very much the two of them in that relationship, which will bring its own struggles,” he said. “Especially in a time like we’re living in now, with the virus and distancing, it will bring a whole new set of complications to their relationship. But it’ll be interesting to see how that will continue to evolve.”
One additional facet to Season 4 that was discussed tonight was the fact that Shaun and his colleagues will be moving up in the medical world, after paying their dues at the bottom of the professional hierarchy. “We’re going to throw them into a supervisory capacity,” Shore said, “and bring in new characters to challenge them in that regard.”
“I’m excited to examine Shaun trying to be a boss, and what he does with responsibility,” Highmore added, “and how he tries to reach people and help them develop.”
Debuting in 2017, The Good Doctor follows Highmore’s Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and Savant syndrome who works at a prestigious hospital, routinely surmounting the prejudices and preconceptions of those around him.
Produced by Sony Pictures Television and ABC Studios, in association with Shore Z Productions, 3AD, and Entermedia, the drama will return for its fourth season on November 2.