Congratulations to The Good Doctor for becoming the latest show to inexplicably have a years-old clip transcend its original context. This week, it’s sent the internet into something of a chaotic and meme-filled whirlwind.
If you don’t normally tune into broadcast TV, you might not be aware of The Good Doctor, ABC’s long-running medical drama that stars Freddie Highmore as an autistic doctor with savant syndrome that first debuted in 2017. The series, which originated as a Korean medical drama when Daniel Dae Kim bought the rights to adapt an American version, has aired 116 episodes across six seasons and was recently renewed for a seventh season, although it’s long been criticized for its portrayal of autism; in its latest season, The Good Doctor averaged 6 million viewers. That’s all to say that The Good Doctor is quite popular.
The clip that has taken over the internet comes from the season 2 episode, “Breakdown.” Dr. Shaun Murphy (Highmore) had been placed in pathology by Dr. Jackson Han (Kim), the hospital’s chief of surgery, earlier in the season. In “Breakdown,” Shaun’s colleagues brought him on to consult on another case, which resulted in saving the patient and Shaun asking for his job as a surgeon back. Dr. Han refuses, leading Shaun to have the episode’s titular breakdown as he repeatedly says, “I am a surgeon!”
@alilson_m #movie #film #fyp ♬ 10 minutes BGM for light training such as yoga(845880) – kakumaru
As a result, Dr. Han fires Shaun. By the end of the next episode (the season 2 finale), Dr. Han is out of a job while Shaun gets his job back. But the context is almost unnecessary to the clip itself. It features a vast contrast between Shaun becoming increasingly upset as an unmoved Dr. Han watches him, which is enough for people to put their own spin on it; the clip also offers enough for some detractors to point to the outburst performed by Highmore as proof that The Good Doctor is bad TV.
While Know Your Meme noted that some iterations of the clip were posted in 2021, it wasn’t until April 2023 that it picked up steam. TikTokers added filters, sped up the audio, and made it appear that Shaun was saying “Sturgeon” to make the out-of-context scene even funnier.
@ash0le32 ♬ original sound – ❔❔❔❔
@ahzars #movie #clip #watch #facebook #dance #satisfying #sad #relatable #respect👑 #iamasurgeon #autism #oldschool #helpmeplease #heshere #help #plasticsurgeon #surgeonlife #fyp ♬ STURGEON – 🐠
There’s also a SpongeBob edit.
@gwiareal This MIGHT be spongebob ☝️☝️☝️☝️ #spongebob #imspongebob #spongebobsquarepants #iamasurgeon #iamasurgeondrhan #thegooddoctor #fypシ #fyp #xyzbca ♬ original sound – Guy_With_Internet_Access
But the meme migrated over to Twitter after an account posted a different clip from The Good Doctor. The clip from the season 1 episode “She” shows Shaun confounded by a trans person’s identity because of her pronouns. Even within the clip, Shaun is shown to be in the wrong as his colleagues call him out. And The Good Doctor‘s decision to blame Shaun’s transphobia on his autism doesn’t exactly sit well, either, something the show was called out for before 2023.
And so emerged an intriguing argument: Shaun might not respect a patient’s pronouns, but Dr. Han—a recurring character who doesn’t show up until the end of season 2—would never. Some memes frame Dr. Han as the hero, while Shaun is called out for being a bad (and offensive) doctor.
But amid all of the memes and mockery of The Good Doctor comes a bigger question: What is this show, and why have I never heard of it? We’re seeing a typical example of the disconnect between what gets traction online and what people can watch. Outlets might cover shows like Succession more fervently, but a show like The Good Doctor always has a potentially bigger audience because one of those shows requires a subscription to tune in, and the other doesn’t.