How The Good Doctor Is Handling The 'Extra Stress' Of Moving Past COVID In Season 4

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(Image credit: ABC)

The Good Doctor was the first big network medical drama to return to TV for the 2020-2021 TV season, and the ABC hit dove right into the COVID-19 pandemic that changed everything starting back in the spring. Although the two-part Season 4 premiere largely covered the despair and exhaustion of the doctors and nurses at St. Bonaventure, complete with the heartbreaking death of one of their own, the show moved beyond the pandemic starting with the third episode. The Good Doctor producer Shawn Williamson spoke with CinemaBlend about the challenges of moving past the pandemic on TV while the pandemic is still impacting the world in real life.

While the characters were wearing masks and social distancing in the first couple of episodes, the end of the second episode saw them walk out into a world in which COVID had been beaten and they could go mask-less and visit with friends and get back to "normal" life. With production on The Good Doctor still requiring masks and other protocols, there is certainly a difference between the fictional world of St. Bonaventure and the real world. Shawn Williamson addressed the story moving beyond the pandemic while production still faces pandemic protocols, saying this when asked if there are challenges:

Yes, of course, because everybody's trying to be safe. And there's additional stress now, because everybody's concerned about getting the virus. And so we are, you know, we're working under different safety protocols than in 'normal times.' Because we're always a very safe industry generally, or we strive to be very safe, and, you know, aware of keeping everybody comfortable and safe at work. During COVID, it's harder with everybody shooting and working with masks and goggles and different things, to work within the protocol. So it does add extra stress.

The Good Doctor Season 4 has been careful to make it clear to viewers that the stories they're watching are fictional, with star Freddie Highmore appearing in the beginning of the most recent episode to directly tell fans that the show "portrays our hope for the future" in which no one has to wear masks or take other steps to stay safe from the pandemic, and asking for people to "please protect yourself and others."

The show took steps behind-the-scenes and through the screen to emphasize safety as much as possible, resulting in some "extra stress," even as the stories of Season 4 provide some escapism. Like many other shows, The Good Doctor was later than usual in returning to television for the 2020-2021 season due to production changes. Producer Shawn Williamson explained the process of finding the safe way to get The Good Doctor started for Season 4:

Well, it was long. I mean, it was long and careful. And we work in conjunction with government, meshing the government guidelines with various different studio safety protocols, and ultimately, you know, union protocols that were all negotiated over many months, where we learned more about COVID, and how it was moving at the time and how to try to create a safe workplace. So it was a months-long process of learning about the disease, talking to the epidemiologists, and the safety people and then working collaboratively with the unions, government, and the studios to figure out a safe way to shoot.

For Season 4, The Good Doctor had to figure out a safe way to shoot not only for the returning stars, but for new cast members as well. Shaun Murphy and his fellow residents are poised to become mentors to incoming first-year residents, which means a slew of new actors joining the series. The new precautions meant that the traditional casting processes and chemistry reads couldn't happen in person.

Acknowledging that chemistry tests can be rolls of the dice when it comes to remote auditions, The Good Doctor producer Shawn Williamson explained the approach for Season 4:

We still can do chemistry reads and have some of our established actors work with the newer actors, and you're still doing that through Zoom. And so it is very different, you know, often a chemistry read can be done in the same room, where you're taping both of them, and they have an opportunity to get to know each other and kind of work collaboratively together. Now, that doesn't exist. And, you know, it's it's an odd year, I mean, we limit access to set and so typically, we would all be getting to know any new actor who's a recurring person with us, and spending time socializing and going out to dinners and doing, you know, things as a large group, which really isn't happening now. So none of that has happened this year, we haven't done the typical cast dinners that you might do at the beginning of the season. And so everybody gets to know everybody on set through masks now.

Fortunately for fans, the Good Doctor team was willing to tackle all of the challenges, extra stress, and changes to return to production for Season 4, which has included the show including and then moving past the pandemic. While medical dramas like Chicago Med and Grey's Anatomy are seemingly going to involve COVID on an ongoing basis in their current seasons, St. Bonaventure on The Good Doctor has moved on.

With so many shows dramatically delving into COVID this season, I for one am already loving how The Good Doctor handled the pandemic with the right amount of gravity and respect to those affected in real life before moving on to a lighter status quo to provide some escapism. I'd rather watch Shaun and Co. get back to business as usual than watch them exhausting themselves behind masks on a weekly basis.

Fans can find Shaun Murphy and Co. tackling their non-COVID-related challenges with new episodes of The Good Doctor, airing on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC following new episodes of Dancing with the Stars. For more of what to watch and when to watch it, be sure to check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule and our 2021 winter and spring premiere guide, and stay tuned to CinemaBlend for the latest in television and movies.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).