TNT has always been the go-to network for fans of least-common-denominator cop dramas. I was planning on including a list of some of their greatest hits in this introduction, but every one of their shows is so unremarkable and every one of their titles is so generic that they all blur together. For all I know, TNT’s daytime lineup consists of one 24 hour-long show called Memphis Blue Heat Case: Saving Grace and Order: Special Victims Unit. You might remember the seminal work of their oeuvre, Franklin and Bash, a show that holds the distinction of being so terrible I could not sit through it to write a review of it. Lately though, they’ve expanded into an increasingly popular genre: that of the Professional Whose Mental Illness Gives Them Unique Insight Who Excels at Their Job but Not Their Social Life. First, there was Monk, a show about a detective whose Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder allows him to gain unique insight into solving crimes. Then, Criminal Minds, a show about an FBI agent who’s Asperger’s Syndrome allows him to gain unique insight into solving crimes. Then, dozens of generic knockoffs of those two. Of course, none of those are as flagrantly bad as TNT’s latest show, Perception, a show about a college professor and special agent whose schizophrenia (a disorder widely regarded as the most disabling and debilitating in all of psychiatry) allows him to gain insight into solving crimes (and also lead a perfectly normal life, and did I mention his hallucinations talk to him and help him solve the mystery, because you’re fucking right they do).
Mental Illness has become lodged in our pop culture thanks to the rise of psychopharmacology as a legitimate means of psychiatric treatment. The idea of a Professional With a Mental Illness That Helps Him Gain Unique Insights Who Excels at Their Job But Not Their Social Life has become very popular recently. It’s been noticed before that thanks to a growing understanding of mental illness, and thanks to films and shows featuring characters with psychiatric problems that give them an enhanced perspective on life, psychiatric illness has actually become glamorized as the latest trend. Anyone reading this that is in high school ought to be nodding in agreement, but the adults in the audience may have some trouble. Just look at the blogs of even the most typical teenager and they’ve, at some point, been depressed (no one is just “sad” anymore, they’re all “depressed”) or anxious or maybe, if you’ve gotten really lucky, schizophrenic. They are the children of people who work at your office whose coffee mugs assure you that they’re the craziest person in the world.
Shows that feature a mentally ill professional whose psychiatric problems give them unique insights are a problem because they fetishize disorder, make it seem like something to be envied. These programs and movies have served to make psychological disorders hip and chic and cool, when they are not. That guy with a guitar who says he’s clinically depressed? He’s just an asshole, and so are you for listening to him. As someone who has struggled with assorted anxiety disorders since I was eight years old, I can say without a doubt that there’s nothing totally awesome and cool about not being able to go to a party because you’re scared of the whole entire rest of the world. Making mental illness out to seem great is offensive because it is disingenuous. I’m sure as hell glad that we’re past the point in Western Civilization when any kind of psychological problem was something to be hated and feared, but going the exact opposite way with it and saying it’s awesome is kind of a problem too. Mental Illness is not sexy. It’s an obstacle that many people struggle with, and to any of those people, seeing someone lucky enough to be able to go out into the world and have healthy, exciting life experiences wish that they couldn’t is extremely frustrating.
There’s a scene in the pilot episode of Perception, where, after giving an extremely articulate and well-spoken lecture that would be almost impossible for someone with paranoid schizophrenia, Eric McCormack is propositioned by an attractive young student. That’s right kids, schizophrenia not only lets you see cool hallucinations that let you live an exciting life and help you solve murders, but it will make hot, redhead coeds fuck your brains out. Seriously, TNT, I know that television is all about cash and everything, but goddamnit, please be part of the solution and not the problem. And if you don’t want to, that’s fine. But when that absolutely typical and healthy fourteen year old girl you’re Facebook friends with for some reason updates her status about how bipolar she’s become, just know this: that’s your fault.