[TELEVISION] Why I stopped The Good Doctor before Neil Melendez’s death #BringBackMelendez

I stopped watching halfway through season three as one, life got busy and Netflix removed the series before I could have the time to catch up, and two because the show got boring after season two. There were plenty areas I thought the writers could elaborated instead of touch-and-go and I am going to share these thoughts.

The romance storylines are just odd.
I believe I have hinted multiple times that The Good Doctor does not emphasise much on its other characters and this statement cannot be anymore true when you view it from a romantic angle. There are a few characters in the story with each having their own set of complicated and odd pairings.

Number one: Shaun x Lea x Carly. Originally I thought Lea and Shaun matched well until season two where she suddenly returned from Hershey and back into Shaun’s life, messing the guy’s personal life. Carly and Shaun, hmm do seem ok but I think it could not work out as Lea is still the third wheel in their relationship.

Number two: Melendez x Jessica x Audrey x Claire. Dr Neil Melendez sure is a skilled surgeon and a charmer in his personal life as he managed to claim the hearts of successful and powerful ladies in each season. If Neil lived through season three, I bet the writers would give him another woman pairing only to be dumped again.

What irks me most about how the writers developed Neil’s romance relationships is that the relationships feel forced. We have no idea how Jessica and Neil even got engaged when they work for the same hospital, and we see more of them arguing/conflicting with each other at the workplace than being intimate at home except this.

Unfortunately the few (intimate) moments between these two that we get to see

Without any indicator of how many months have passed since their split, Neil quickly falls in love with his old friend/colleague/competitor Dr Audrey after their one-night-stand and the Christmas hoo-ha.

And in the same episode where they very publicly PDA and announced their relationship, Audrey got promoted to Chief Surgeon, oh boy one could clearly see that Neil was not too pleased or at least not genuinely proud of his girlfriend. The man left the office while Aoki rang up Audrey about the promotion. What kind of boyfriend does that? The writers failed to give these two a proper built-up and deleted way too many scenes of the two of them such that when they broke up, it only made fans wonder whether these two had any chemistry and truly in love with each other.

Few episodes after Melendez got dumped (again), we see a relationship blooming between the attending and his resident. Wrong move right there but one can’t help the feelings right? At the start, I actually thought that Dr Browne would be the reason why Dr Melendez calls off the engagement. These two bicker with each other and the writers dropped very heavy hints in S1E6 that the resident had a crush on her superior yet nothing was explored until midway through Season three where we see just the two of them hanging out in bowling alley, bars and jogging after work. No proper superior and subordinate would do that unless they had feelings for each other lol no. And the producers made a terrible decision to kill off Melendez right when he indirectly confessed his feelings to her and when she confessed hers to her therapist. This brings me to my next point.

Dr Neil Melendez’s unnecessary and unwarranted death
The show has several plot armor but failed in saving the one person who displayed the most character development. Melendez’s character did annoyed me at the beginning especially when he was the minority who went against Shaun’s appointment.

Melendez was an ethical and rule-abiding surgeon who genuinely cares for his patients’ outcomes. When describing Dr Han to Park and Morgan, he used the words “direct, charming, big ego and full of himself” and these adjectives earned a glare from the two residents as these words ironically described Melendez himself. It is true and this surgeon could live to his reputation. In the beginning, we witnessed the famous “You’re very arrogant” scene, I was hoping that, and actually waiting that, Melendez would sabotage Shaun, pull rank and oust Shaun out.

But Melendez did not and within a few episodes later, we see Melendez supporting his resident. To my surprise, Melendez did not become an antagonist to Shaun nor anyone else in the series. Instead, he supports his colleagues, teaches his residents and guiding them step-by-step in their surgeries. As we spend more time with Melendez, we see him loosening up, laughing, helping Shaun in his personal life and even chatting with his colleagues in the operating theatre; this is something pilot episode Neil would never do but he has done it and that shows progress.

I am very glad we get to see the softer side of him when he visited his sister Gabi in the group home (why were the writers cruel enough to kill his character?)

Melendez was almost always the hero in the show and despite his failed relationships, he always remained objective and professional at work which is something actually very remarkable. He was a witty and funny partner to his romance interests, helpful and supportive of his team even when they face personal problems, a compassionate older brother (man helped his sister in activities of daily living since a young age), a strong commander in the operating theatre and has exhibited leadership skills that would make him an excellent chief surgeon. And of course, Melendez was a very attractive and charming surgeon (so thankful he was often in suits). Yet the writers failed us right here.

Killing him right when a relationship is about to blossom for a shock value which left the actor Nicholas Gonzalez himself (see HERE for the interview too) and many other netizens including myself in pure shock and disappointment. It just did not made any sense.

Literally everyone else such as Glassman, Audrey and Shaun had moments where they were on the fringe of death yet their lives were miraculously saved. Meanwhile Melendez’s life was the only one they could not rescue yet whose life was the one probably most preventable. A recipe of disaster, a rollercoaster crashing into pure disappointment, or just purely creative decision, call it whatever you want but this stopped me from proceeding with the show (to be 100% honest, I stopped even before the earthquake episodes as I rather leave with a happy and healthy image of Dr Neil Melendez than the ‘goodbye’ scene).

The universe was too small.
The Good Doctor is based on a South Korean television series of the same name and I am unclear what the copyright or legal rights were, but I do believe the American version could have featured more characters or settings.

I think the show needs to center its focus on developing either the plot or character development. In the first season, I was anticipating more scenes on the characters, their backstory and other fun elements or even a team-bonding day within the surgical team but to my disappointment, every episode was about a medical case that required immediate attention from Melendez, Glassman, Andrews or Audrey. I mean is the hospital filled with JUST surgeons? I expected more interactions between the surgeons and other departments, say the oncologists, psychiatry etc. Sure, seeing how the surgeons solve one complicated case after another is thrilling but repeating that formula over and over is a path to boredom.

A new doctor Dr Ko who assisted the team in the separation surgery. Wished we see more of her and other doctors.
Credits: https://www.sensacine.com/series/serie-18045/foto-detalle/?cmediafile=21473813

The Good Doctor gets more and more predictable with each episode and sometimes I wished they had episodes where the team gets a day’s off and bonds together or just have a nice meal together. The writers could have explored more on other characters — apart from Shaun’s world — and give the audience a peek into others’ lives.

Another operating theater scene
Credits: https://the-good-doctor.fandom.com/wiki/22_Steps

Take the relationship between Audrey and Neil. Their personalities match well, they are of similar age, and most importantly they strongly support and believe each other (although that was the reason why they eventually split). While I felt that the entire relationship was too rushed and only motivated by that one night, I still believe that the relationship had some potential. If I was the writer, I would have already moved one of them to another hospital and let the relationship blossom. Maybe Melendez found a promotion elsewhere close to his sister’s group home? Or maybe Audrey decides to join that hospital she was thinking of. Whichever the case is, just seeing most of the events unfold in St. Bonaventure Hospital got boring and almost predictable as the series continues. Having more than just one St. Bonaventure Hospital in San Jose or a rivalry hospital will be refreshing for audience, or at least for me.

Too much breadth and lack in depth.
The point above, however, can potentially lead to few problems though. If there was one thing I should have realised sooner it is that The Good Doctor features a main character, Dr Shaun Murphy, and the people around him. I mean duh right, the show title already said it. Unlike some of television series I love, it does not feature an ensemble cast where almost all MCs are given equal screen time or at least significance in supporting the story and I thought “what a shame!”. There is plenty of room for development for these other characters. I would honestly prefer if the show had an ensemble cast. I mean there is just so much more we want to know about the characters.

For sure I want to know more about Dr Andrews’ relationship with his wife. An episode briefly touched on their difficulties in conceiving with the former eventually seeking medical help, but was there an end to that?

I was also struck by the oddity of the friendship between the hospital’s legal advisor and Melendez’s ex-fiancé Jessica Preston, and the hospital’s former president and attending neurosurgeon Dr Aaron Glassman, but the series does not dig deeper into this relationship. How often does Jessica come to Dr Glassman’s house after class? Did Jessica know about Maddie Glassman’s drug problems and if so, did she intervene? How did Jessica responded to her friend and also Glassman’s daughter Maddie’s death? It did not made sense why these two still keep close contact when Aaron ’caused’ his daughter’s death.

The career-driven legal advisor for the hospital, Jessica Preston
Credits: https://moviemaps.org/images/128y

Unpopular opinion but Glassman has got to go.
Speaking of Glassman, why are the writers so hooked on his story and his relationship? Yes I get that he is Shaun’s mentor and friend but to devote so much screen time to him? Nope, I do not think it was justifiable and necessary.

Unpopular opinion here but I believe the series would be much stronger if Dr Glassman had actually died at the end of Season 1 and passed on the role of mentorship to Melendez and Audrey. When Audrey proposed to make the residents compete with one another, Melendez mentioned that Dr Glassman did the same to them when they were interns, so it must be the case that these three know one another well. Those two next-generation are excellent and skilled surgeons in their respective fields, and they are groomed to be the future leaders of the hospital (if Melendez lived of course). But however exceptional they are, they or at least Dr Neil Melendez has areas of improvements. For instance, Melendez definitely needs to learn to be less tense at work and well be less arrogant (but to his credit, this flaw has actually improved as the show goes on). Having Glassman around in The Good Doctor‘s world just limits the potential of Melendez and Audrey as these two will always have a mentor to rely on.

Melendez and Audrey in Glassman’s office after the couple argued at work
Credits: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/a30418558/the-good-doctor-season-3-lim-melendez-christina-chang/

Even if we removed the attendings from the picture, having Glassman around as Shaun’s safety net does him no good either because Shaun knows he can always rely on Glassman. It is kind of how Dumbledore had to die for Harry to understand the magic behind the dark magic, ok lame but essentially Dumbledore’s sacrifice was necessary for Harry to fulfill the prophecy and his destiny.

Fair enough, The Good Doctor suggests a singular person and the series poster already draws audience’s attention to Freddie Highmore’s character. But if I had the chance to rewrite this American drama, I would have gave all the main characters equal plots.

Unrealistic behaviour and actions from the patients and families
I am not sure about the subsequent seasons since I could not and would not make it past season three but we need to talk about this: healthcare staff abuse. For years now, not just in Singapore but globally but The Good Doctor often paints a rosy picture of how working in the healthcare industry is like. When a patient dies in the operating theatre, there is no way their family would not throw a tantrum and yell at the surgeon for the death. Also no way would anyone take news of a returning cancer or impending death so calmly, nope. And I am fairly certain not everyone would take Shaun’s straightforward delivery of a patient’s diagnosis so well. The show would be way more realistic if the writers had explored a case where the family member actually resorted to physical violence or verbal abuse of the surgeons.

BUT on the plus side, the show celebrates diversity and that is good.
Too often we see white characters dominating the big picture. The show has a range of actors and actresses from diverse races. I mean look at the picture below. I really am surprised and pleased to see that many of the show’s main characters were of different races instead of just supporting characters that are not important for the show’s progression. For instance, Dr Neil Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez) was initially the antagonist to Dr Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) —  the good doctor with autism and savant syndrome —giving him the responsibility of suctioning only in the operating theatre and often being sarcastic. But as time passes, Dr Melendez, who is also the hospital’s top attending cardiothoracic surgeon, recognised Shaun’s potential and supported him even when the patients had their doubts.

Taiwanese-American actress Christina Chang’s portrayal of attending trauma surgeon Dr Audrey Lim was fantastic too. I for sure appreciated her dry humor, and the way she interacts with her colleagues and residents — she certainly seems like a less stressful to begin with and more fun compared to Dr Melendez’s stern and no-nonsense demeanor at work (see video below). Not sure if others caught it too, but the “comic book tee shirt” (in Melendez’s words in S2E6) was actually worn when Audrey comforted and snuggled with Melendez in his house after the traumatic events in S3E6.

But what struck me the most was its celebration and acceptance of individuals on the autism spectrum or developmental disability. I do not think we see such films often in Hollywood, at least to my knowledge, and it is certainly is a good thing how Dr Shaun Murphy’s character (played by English actor Freddie Highmore) overcome prejudices and obstacles along the way to be a surgical attending in San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital.

Long rant there but The Good Doctor is (or was since Dr Neil Melendez had to die for creative reasons lol bad commercial decision there) a promising series that at least gives you an idea of the different medical problems one might have. It does a good job at reducing the stigma on individuals with autism and is the few American series that has such a diverse cast. While it attempts to lighten up the otherwise serious mood with slices of romance, it failed as it only covered these relationships on the surface without going deeper. Would continued if they #BringBackMelendez

Rating: 1.5 out of 3.

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