How 'The Good Doctor' Is Tackling COVID-19 in Season 4

The Good Doctor Hospital Staff St Bonaventure
Comic-Con
ABC/Jack Rowand

The Good Doctor is opening its fourth season with a two-parter that puts the staff of St. Bonaventure right in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. "It feels like our way of paying tribute really to the real medical professionals who are putting themselves out there saving people's lives every day," star and executive producer Freddie Highmore (Dr. Shaun Murphy) shared. "It's an honor to get to play a doctor and that's what we've all realized more and more."

He was joined by castmates Antonia Thomas (Dr. Claire Browne), Christina Chang (Dr. Audrey Lim), Hill Harper (Dr. Marcus Andrews), Will Yun Lee (Dr. Alex Park), Fiona Gubelmann (Dr. Morgan Reznick), and Paige Spara (Lea Dilallo), executive producer and showrunner David Shore, and executive producer Daniel Dae Kim for the New York Comic Con panel looking ahead before the November 2 return.

Along with the pandemic, the doctors will be dealing with the loss of one of their own, Dr. Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) when the season begins. "His presence will still be felt," Highmore said, adding, "Maybe we'll get to see him again at some point, you never know." But because they're dealing with COVID, that will have some effect on how everyone grieves, particularly those who were closest to him, ex-girlfriend Lim and potential-future-girlfriend Claire.

"For Dr. Lim, it has impacted her. We're dealing with COVID, so I think because she is in the position she's in, being the chief of surgery, she doesn't really get into how she feels about that, at least not straight away," Chang said. "She keeps that hidden and close to her chest."

"From Claire's perspective, it's a very painful one because it was something where she just was realizing her feelings as he died and that was a terribly sad and difficult thing to come to terms with. It also was a little bit too late," Thomas added. "We do see through her dealing with COVID, her also trying to wrestle with the loss."

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There was never really a question of whether The Good Doctor would mirror real life. "It's our world. It would've been so false, I believe, to not deal with it," Shore explained. "It has taken over every aspect of our lives for an unbelievable amount of time. … It's an incredible story, dramatically. We're a show about regular people who do heroic things, and we have seen it time and time again throughout our world over the last six months, regular people rising or failing to rise to the occasion and dealing with the frustrations and dealing with the setbacks and the impact it takes on these human beings is incredibly dramatic, and so we wanted to dramatize it."

The pandemic does create challenges for the doctors and their relationships. For Shaun, "he's always been very good at calling on his impressive memory and I think in this moment, it's particularly tricky when things are changing constantly and every minute and with new information that he's having to deal with and try and process and making those decisions in a way that he is very unaccustomed to doing and also is really perhaps one of his weaknesses and something he has struggled with," Highmore said.

And there are going to be struggles in his personal life as well, as he and Lea finally got together at the end of the Season 3 finale. Now, they're in "a time … with the virus and distancing," which "will bring a whole new set of complications to their relationship," he previewed.

Freddie Highmore Paige Spara Good Doctor Season 3 FInale Shaun Lea

(ABC/Darko Sikman)

Meanwhile, Lim will be "flying by the seat of her pants" while overseeing the residents during this time, Chang said, and that includes "setting up the hospital in a way that is as safe as can be for all her residents, herself, the staff, and taking it day by day" as new information comes in and they must adjust.

While Season 4 is beginning with that two-parter in the pandemic, it won't be a COVID-focused season. While they wanted to deal with it and pay tribute to the frontline workers "and touch on the emotions we're all feeling, the victories and the losses," Shore said, because it's something everyone has been living with for months, "I do think we have a responsibility as entertainers to provide a little bit of an escape."

Therefore, the series will then return to its regular stories "of life … ethical choice and these characters in difficult life and death situations and how it personally impacts them," he continued. "We're not going to be dishonest about it, but hopefully we'll be basically in a post-COVID world. There's going to be an awareness of it, but those are not the stories we're going to tell."

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The Good Doctor, Season 4 Premiere, Monday, November 2, 10/9c, ABC