Fox's new TV show tries to make mental illness entertaining. It isn't.
In the wake of actor David Carradine’s hanging last week, various theories have surfaced about cause of death, none more bizarre than that of Carradine family lawyer Mark Geragos, who told Larry King: “David was very interested in investigating and disclosing secret societies ... And so there is a suspicion that if there was some foul play, that may be the first area they should look."
I have another idea: Look at Carradine’s recent appearance on Fox’s execrable show Mental, which might have made him self-destructive, at the very least.
On the show, Carradine plays an author named Gideon who’s been admitted to a psychiatric institution in L.A. Speechless and wheelchair-bound, Gideon is visited by his blond supermodel daughter, who depends on Director of Mental Health Services Jack Gallagher—the Errol Flynn of psych administrators—to puzzle out her father’s catatonia.
As part of this venture, Gideon is cradled in a swimming pool by a large African-American orderly. This isn’t enough for Gallagher: He jumps into the pool—clothes on—to do the cradling himself. That’s just the kind of guy he is; in Mental’s pilot, he disrobes in the hospital lobby to subdue a violent, naked paranoid schizophrenic.
Poor David Carradine spends most of his episode with his head lolling like a giant flower on a skinny stem. He’s forced to emote, somewhat, when Gallagher yells at him about guilt and judgment, at which point his character emerges from the catatonia and grrs like Tony the Tiger.
Carradine’s storyline, explicated by cut-rate CGI and embarrassing biblical references, is typical of Mental, which is boring, amateurish and feebly scripted. I’m guessing it won’t last long. But for the moment, it’s the only network TV show about mental illness—an opportunity that’s tragically squandered.
Gallagher, played by Chris Vance, is the least busy (and least irritated) hospital administrator I’ve ever seen. He deals with one patient at a time, and has enough freedom in his schedule to break into a patient’s home to learn more about him. He discovers that the patient, Vincent (van Gogh—get it?), is an artist, so he takes him off meds and channels his creativity instead. Now ensconced in a private room, Vincent draws and the pastels work their magic. Happens at Bellevue every day.
This episode also features a patient who’s been diagnosed with “Dead Cat Syndrome”—which won’t be found in any book, I assure you—because he’s hoarded cats then put them in his freezer. The police come when it’s revealed he’s been storing his dead wife in the freezer, too. A pretty psychiatrist shakes her head sadly as he’s taken away: Just another day.
The second episode is about an attractive and successful white couple—she’s a homemaker; he’s a doctor—with a shared psychotic disorder that causes her body to manifest pregnancy at seven months. Gallagher manages to break through the shared delusion by illicitly performing a fake surgery on the wife in the husband’s presence. The operating room and its staff are remarkably available for this theatrical presentation, and because the husband loves the wife, they are both brought back to utter sanity. No meds, no therapy, just love.
Some would say there’s nothing wrong with these goofy storylines; they’re obviously over-the-top since any hospital administrator who’d push a pharma rep into a stairwell would be fired rather than have sweaty sex with a supermodel. But most Americans know nothing about the reality of psychiatric hospitals—and this show won’t help. The institution in Mental is so clean, so filled with kindly, attractive doctors and patients, so quiet, so sane, it’s the Canyon Ranch of asylums.
Here are some quick-hit realities that are so far nowhere to be seen on Mental, network TV’s only show about mental illness:
Hey, maybe those crazy people have it pretty good!
African-Americans are 200 percent more likely to have schizophrenia than white people.
One third of all homeless people suffer from untreated psychiatric illnesses.
There are more people with mental illness in jails and prisons than in hospitals.
At least 16 percent of incarcerated people suffer from serious mental illness.
People with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have higher mortality rates than the general population, and are more likely to suffer from cardiac illnesses, diabetes and obesity.