The biggest and somewhat surprising new hit show of the fall is The Good Doctor, which is now the most-watched drama of the season. But it didn't exactly come out of nowhere. The series, which follows a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, is based on the Korean show of the same name (sans the "The"), which premiered in 2013. Daniel Dae Kim had been trying to adapt it for U.S. viewers since 2014 before it finally arrived in September to ABC with Freddie Highmore as the titular doc.
The Korean Good Doctor was a huge, award-winning smash during its run, which lasted only 20 episodes. Through our more-is-better American lens, that doesn't sound like a lot, but the most popular and successful subsects of K-dramas are short, close-ended runs of 10 to 24 episodes that air twice a week, as Good Doctor did.
The entire Korean series is available to stream on DramaFever (you can watch two episodes for free). But don't worry, we watched a few episodes -- including the series finale -- so you don't have to. So how do they compare?
What's the Same
House creator David Shore developed the show for the U.S. and for the most part stuck to the pilot script, even adapting the lead character's name as closely as he could: In the Korean version, his first name is Shi-on (Joo Won) and in the American version, it's Shaun.
Shore wanted to hew to the Korean pilot as much as possible to establish the characters and setting. "The pilot owes a lot to [the original] and certainly these characters to a great extent were there," he tells TV Guide. "[The original] laid that the foundation."
The pilot is almost a beat-by-beat replica of the original one: Shaun is en route to his first day at a hospital when he saves a boy who is struck by a falling glass sign with a procedure the paramedics on the scene don't know. The boy just so happens to be taken to the same hospital Shaun's going to, where Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff), the hospital president and his mentor, is trying to convince the board that Shaun's autism won't be a hindrance on the job and he himself won't be a liability. A viral video of Shaun's heroic deeds convinces the board to hear Shaun out. Shaun delivers the exact same speech, word for word, about how his pet bunny's and brother's deaths inspired him to be a doctor, which finally persuades the board to give him a chance.
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There are flashbacks to both of those aforementioned deaths in the Korean version as well, along with the abusive childhood and bullying Shi-on suffered at the hands of his father and other kids, respectively. In both versions, the brother gifts Shi-on/Shaun a toy scalpel; medical illustrations float on the screen as our hero is thinking of or performing a procedure; Shi-on/Shaun befriends a female doc and works under an arrogant surgeon who's dismissive of him and is a total dick.
If you had seen the Korean series before the American one, it's kind of hard to judge the latter on its own merits outside of the performances and production since the pilots are so similar, right down to the full-bodied warm and fuzzy feeling they transmit -- a staple of Korean melodramas. The American version forces you to give it another shot or two to see how and if it can stand on its own.
Since the pilot, The Good Doctor has deviated completely from the Korean version, as Shore had always planned. "There were things [from the Korean pilot] I owe a great debt to but there were things I changed," he says. "The show seemed very universal to me and the issues we're touching seemed very universal to me. It was more, how do I make this mine? How do I make the most of what I love about it? And the things I didn't love about it, how do I turn that into things I would love?"
There are slight changes in the pilot that set the stage for The Good Doctor's own storylines. One very American-esque tweak is a post-coital hospital scene between Claire (Antonia Thomas) and Kalu (Chuku Modu) in the pilot; there is no such hookup in the Korean one (K-dramas are also far more modest). While Shi-on works at a pediatric hospital, St. Bonaventure is a general teaching hospital, paving the way for Shaun to treat a greater variety of patients and cases. In ABC's adaptation, Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez), Shaun's boss, starts warming to him a little more quickly over a handful of episodes, even allowing him to scrub into surgery at the end of the pilot unlike in the Korean version.
It's plot points like that that moves the American Good Doctor along at a faster pace -- nevermind the fact that its 18-episode first season will come two episodes shy of matching the Korean version's entire run. The action -- from the chaotic procedures to the dialogue and editing -- operates at a quick clip, creating a sense of urgency, versus the slow, steady stride of the mothership, which, like most K-dramas, lets the scenes and emotions marinate to draw you in. (Korean shows also run a full hour, so they have the luxury to breathe more.)
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One major change is a completely excised storyline from the end of the Korean pilot: Yoon-seo (Moon Chae-won), the Claire equivalent, drunkenly stumbles into Shi-on's apartment, because it used to be hers before she moved to a different unit, and falls asleep in his bed. The next morning -- the beginning of Episode 2 -- she wakes up to him brushing his teeth, shirtless, in front of her. It's the kind of contrivance that works in a K-drama but would have everyone rolling their eyes stateside. A different love interest is set up in the third episode of the American show, as Shaun befriends a neighbor, Lea (Paige Spara), who borrows his batteries and gives him a ride home after he misses the bus stop. In this week's episode, Lea buys him an apple after eating his last one during a vent-fest about their landlord. And in a huge development for Shaun, he lets Lea hug him after he tells her had made a mistake that day.
Here's where things get really different: Shi-on and Yoon-seo later start dating and, by the series finale, are totally serious and eventually live together. In contrast, Shaun and Claire are just pals, and Shaun has yet to date anyone. Of course, whenever The Good Doctor ends, which might not be for years, Shaun and Claire could end up together, but right now it's not in the realm of narrative possibility; Lea at the moment seems like the most likely possible love interest, but they're working best now as a budding friendship. The Good Doctor is taking its time with Shaun's character development, punctuated with his recent abrupt declaration to Glassman: "I don't want love."
Shaun says that after explaining that he doesn't love his younger brother Steve or his pet bunny anymore because they're both dead. Their deaths are also tweaked. In the Korean version, Shi-on's brother, Yi-on, is older and died in a mine Shi-on wanted to go into versus Steve's accidental fall off an old train car.
But we are completely burying the lede here. The biggest and most glaring difference between the two shows is the Bunny Death. First of all, Shi-on's bunny is white, not brown. Secondly, unlike Shaun's dad's savage grab and no-look toss of the bunny against the wall, as if it's some dirty towel his wife is asking him to give her to wash, Shi-on's raging pops throws the bunny while it's still in its cage.
They're both equally upsetting, but if you ask us, Shi-on's bunny could've probably survived in the cage. So score one for the good ol' U.S. of A. for bunny death realism.
Despite perpetrating the most brutal bunny death since Fatal Attraction, ABC's The Good Doctor has proven to be its own beast that maintains the heartwarming spirit of the original, which is exactly what Shore set out to do -- and why he thinks there are so many adaptations these days. "I don't think ... you look at it and go, 'Oh, I can make that American,'" he says. "I think we're just going, 'That's a great story. I would like to tell that story and make it my own.' And that's what happened here."
The Good Doctor airs Mondays at 10/9c on ABC.