Clips from ABC's 'The Good Doctor' are going viral amid criticism of its representation of autism. Here's what you need to know.

Still from "The Good Doctor" scene where Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) tells Dr. Han (Daniel Dae Kim) "I am a surgeon)
Dr. Shaun Murphy and Dr. Han on "The Good Doctor."ABC
  • Clips from the medical drama "The Good Doctor" went viral in May.

  • They sparked memes about Freddie Highmore and Daniel Dae Kim's characters, Dr. Shaun Murphy and Dr. Han.

  • The viral clips also reignited criticism over the way that the show portrays autism.

Nearly six years after "The Good Doctor" premiered on ABC in 2017, the medical drama has been thrust into the spotlight.

Clips from the ABC drama went viral on Twitter on Tuesday, sparking renewed criticism — and plenty of dunking — about the show's central character. Dr. Shaun Murphy (played by Freddie Highmore) is autistic, something that in the show lends him preternatural medical abilities in a way that plays into the autistic savant trope.

Here's how "The Good Doctor" went viral, renewing a wave of discussion about the show's representation of autism.

Clips from the show first started trending on TikTok and Twitter in late April and early May

It's not atypical for seemingly random movies and TV shows to go viral thanks to TikTok. As Polygon recently reported, there's an entire corner of the social-media platform that's dedicated to reuploading movie and TV clips, often with little to no context. "The Good Doctor" is one of those shows that gets punted onto TikTok in chopped up little pieces that not-infrequently amass millions of views, often because they're just goofy.

In late April, the show seemingly broke out of its containment corner on the app, mostly through a clip showing Murphy repeatedly insisting to Daniel Dae Kim's character Dr. Han that he is a surgeon.

The sequence is from season two, episode 17 of the show and went viral several times on TikTok in April — first in an April 20 post by the user @alilson_m that has 19.3 million views to date, and again in an April 22 post by user @hnjiaaju14, whose video has approximately 20.5 million views to date (both accounts are essentially clip repositories for shows like "The Good Doctor" and "Grey's Anatomy").

On @hnjiauuju14's post, the comments take a rather sardonic turn.

"Me when I am a surgeon," one comment from early May reads. "I think he's a surgeon," another reads. "Bro is possibly a surgeon," another says.

Meme parodies and edits of the sequence that warp Highmore's voice in a helium-pitched earsore and add lasers to Kim's eyes proliferated on TikTok. Other edits of fish clips imagined that Highmore was saying "I am a sturgeon," rather than "surgeon."

Another clip from the show has been circulating online, showing Murphy repeatedly misgendering a transgender patient. After the clip was uploaded to TikTok on April 25 by TikTok user @xiaoshuai057, it was reuploaded to Twitter by several accounts who made additional transphobic statements or sided with Murphy misgendering the patient.

The virality of 'I am a surgeon' generated an ironic fandom for Dr. Han, and renewed criticism of the show's representation of autism 

On May 6, film writer Guy Dolbey reposted @hnjiaajuz14's upload of the clip onto Twitter, where it's since been viewed approximately 8.9 million times by users on the platform. The Twitter upload, in turn sparked further memes and reactions — and criticism as well.  

After the "I am a surgeon" clip spread to Twitter, memes about Dr. Han began to abound. People enthusiastically praising Dr. Han, or making memes about him, became an ironic type of fandom.

Eventually, "The Good Doctor" memes were distilled into a singular conflict: Surgeon vs. Han, which was applied to other clips from the show.

The "I am a surgeon" memes also collided with discussions about the separate clip of the transgender child on the show, with one person reposting @CatchUpFeed's upload of it with the caption, "SURGEON NO!"

As memes about "The Good Doctor" spun out of control, with users sharing other absurd snippets from the series, others raised criticism — and cracked jokes — about the way that the show represents people with autism.

That criticism isn't new. In 2018, a group of three doctors wrote in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter that the show continued a trend in portraying autism as a kind of "superpower," predominantly through white, male genius characters like the titular doctor. In the process, it leaves behind people with autism who don't match that depiction, they argued.

And amid the resurgent criticism, Sara Luterman, a caregiving reporter at The 19th who wrote about the show for Slate in 2017, told The Washington Post in May that while she felt positive about the show when it premiered, she's since realized that there are other series with "better, fuller, more realistic shows of autistic people in them."

On Twitter, some shared clips mocking the way that "The Good Doctor" depicted Murphy's autism, with one person referring to the dramatized way graphics and medical information surround him as he thinks as Murphy's "autism powers."

Others pointed out the show's association with Autism Speaks, an organization that's been criticized for perpetuating harmful narratives about autistic people and failing to adequately serve or represent them. Many raised concerns about the fact that Highmore, the actor who plays Dr. Murphy, does not have autism.

While "The Good Doctor" has been on for years, this particular viral moment seemed to signify a whole swathe of people online becoming aware of network television, as Bethy Squires wrote for Vulture. And while the memes have died down, "The Good Doctor" will keep chugging on — for at least a seventh season, and maybe more.

An ABC representative did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

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