How The Good Doctor Went Viral

An out-of-context clip from a network TV drama has inflamed the internet's imagination like little else.

THE GOOD DOCTOR – “A Beautiful Day” – Dr. Glassman and Dr. Murphy’s relationship may be irreparably damaged following a tense moment during surgery. While Dr. Reznick struggles during her parental leave, Dr. Park may just be the one she needs the most. MONDAY, APRIL 24 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT), on ABC.
Photo: Jeff Weddell | ABC

Does your child use phrases like “surgeon-cels seething,” “I’m totally Han-pilled right now,” or even, God forbid, “the virgin surgeon vs. the chad doctor?” If so, then they might have been exposed to the horrors of the internet. Allow us to explain.

Every now and then Millennial and Gen-Z social media users see something that reminds them there is a whole other network TV media ecosystem filled with largely entertaining, yet inoffensive episodic content for their parents to enjoy. We saw this happen recently when an absolutely bonkers clip from 9-1-1: Lone Star went viral.

And now that moment has arrived again with the Tik Tok unearthing of several, awkward out-of-context scenes from the long-running ABC drama The Good Doctor. Here is just one example. And we promise this will make sense soon.

If you’ve never heard of The Good Doctor, first of all: congratulations on having the rest of your young life ahead of you. The show is adapted from a South Korean series of the same name and stars Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) as Dr. Shaun Murphy, an autistic surgical resident and the good doctor of the show’s title.

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Through its six-season run, The Good Doctor has occasionally been criticized for its heavy handed and highly dramatized characterization its lead character’s autism. Other reviews find Highmore’s performance at least tolerable and the show’s case-of-the-week format to be reasonably well executed. For the most part, however, The Good Doctor isn’t really critically assessed one way or another. As long-time TV critic and pop culture mastermind Emily St. James illustrates in this well-argued thread, The Good Doctor is the kind of television experience that just hums along in the background as the “serious” cultural commentators ignore it.

That’s not necessarily because TV tastemakers (like yours truly) have declared it to be without merit but rather that its mostly safe episodic storytelling format is at odds with the serialization necessary for the Internet Take Complex to churn. So while something like The Good Doctor is watched by many, many more people on average than say, Succession, the latter tends to receive more online coverage. As a result, when a network TV property somehow makes the jump into wild world of social media, it can seem profoundly alien. And that’s what The Good Doctor is currently experiencing.

The Good Doctor‘s Twitter renaissance began, regrettably, with some bigotry. On April 26, a Twitter account uploaded a clip from the show via Tik Tok in which the very literal Dr. Shaun Murphy doesn’t understand the particulars of gender identity and routinely misgenders his transgender patient. The account that uploaded the clip did so with the intent of highlighting a transphobic message, but the impression that most Twitter users took away was something akin to “wow, this is what’s happening on network TV right now? This is wild!”

That subsequently led to the unearthing of several other bizarre moments from the show. It all peaked, however, with one fateful clip that would truly capture the internet’s imagination and lead to dozens of dadaist mashups, remixes, and memes. The clip is as follows:

What’s the context of this scene? Well, Dr. Shaun Murphy is a surgeon, you see. And he is very intent on letting Dr. Han (played by Daniel Dae Kim, who actually is the person who bought the rights to the South Korean series) know that. Though this clip has been kicking around the internet since at least 2021, it has truly caught fire in recent days.

Social media users, frequently led by meme-obsessed American election analysis account Ettingermentum, have tackled this 15-second scene from every possible angle. They’ve tried out word play.

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They’ve done “chad vs. virgin” memes.

They’ve performed tight close ups on Freddie Highmore’s weeping face.

They’ve brigaded YouTube comment sections.

They did the laser eyes thing.

They made “the surgeon” (he’s never known by his actual name in the memes) and Dr. Han into Wojak-style illustrations.

And through it all, they’ve cast the stoic Dr. Han as an LGBTQ+ icon for his sacking of the possibly transphobic surgeon.

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It’s … a lot, we know. And just to add a couple more layers to it, Twitter has also uncovered a couple other strange Good Doctor clips that have been added into the meme canon as well, including this observation about “the surgeon’s” distinct arm movements.

And this failed grocery store robbery.

Something going viral on Twitter is obviously nothing new. The Good Doctor‘s memetic moment in the sun comes along at an interesting time though. The 2023 writers strike is underway in part because of how different the streaming TV model has become from the traditional TV model. Thanks to this privileged look into network TV primetime programming, social media users can see just how differently the other half lives, one out-of-context clip at a time.