A while back I talked about how mental illness and therapy are portrayed in various TV shows.

I found this a really interesting post to write and since then, I’ve been particularly impressed by how mental health has been explored in two particular shows. Spoilers ahead – though I’m talking about season 5 of Suits and Star Trek TNG, so I wouldn’t worry too much!

Suits

This may sound strange, but when Harvey started having panic attacks at the start of season 5, I was thrilled. It was great to see a strong, confident man experiencing severe bouts of anxiety, rather than the tired, predictable portrayals I’m used to seeing (Big Bang Theory’s Stuart, I’m looking at you). I think this helps to drive home the point that mental illness can happen to anyone – regardless of wealth, success or any other factors – and remind people that outward appearances can be deceiving.

Harvey Specter having a panic attack

Harvey up until this point had been portrayed as a stoic character who, it could be argued, is not very in touch with his emotions. Problems in his personal life began to take a toll on him however, and his panic attacks frightened him so much that he started seeing a psychiatrist.

In these sessions with Dr Agard, we see him resisting her efforts to help him, as he struggles to be honest with her. She starts to dig a bit deeper and it becomes clear that his current problems stem from much larger, more deep-rooted issues. I’m only a few episodes into the season, but I’m excited to see how this story line develops.

What I liked…

  • Harvey’s honesty with Mike when he tells him he’s having a panic attack.
  • Straight after, when Mike asks if Harvey’s alright, rather than brushing it off, Harvey admits he’s not.
  • The realistic way the panic attacks are portrayed, showing the overwhelming physical symptoms: racing heart, sweating, vomiting. I thought these scenes were very well done.
  • The fact that Dr Agard insists Harvey talks to her, refusing to simply prescribe him medication. One thing I’ve learned is that talking therapies and medication go hand-in-hand, and I’m glad this is being explored on the show.
  • The balance between Harvey being vulnerable, while also still being his usual self. Though I suspect he may continue to unravel and I’m interested to see where the show takes him, at the moment I like that he’s struggling, while still being high-functioning. It’s a realistic portrayal of what many people go through each day, and the way the anxiety is slowly creeping its way into his life and affecting his work as he tries to keep afloat is very relatable.
  • The way it showed that therapy isn’t an instant fix. My heart sank when Harvey triumphantly threw his medication away, because I thought the writers were just using the panic attacks as a one-off dramatic device. I’m so glad the therapist didn’t just say a few magic words and instantly ‘fix’ him. It’s much more realistic that he didn’t experience an immediate breakthrough and again, I’m excited to see how his experiences continue to develop his character.

…and what I didn’t

  • The ‘mind-reading therapist’ trope. When Dr Agard told him, ‘I had you pegged from the moment you walked in’ I have to admit I rolled my eyes slightly.
  • Dr Agard’s openness with Harvey. Some of what she divulges to him and the poker game they have later on didn’t really ring true to me, but then again, I’m not a psychiatrist, so who knows?
  • This hasn’t happened yet, so it’s possibly unfair to put it in the dislikes column, but I have a feeling they will end up dating and I really hope they don’t.

The verdict

I’m a big fan of Suits and absolutely love Harvey as a character, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how he continues to try and overcome his anxiety. I sincerely hope he doesn’t just end up in a relationship with Donna (or Dr Agard!) and that’s the end of his panic attacks. I’m so sick of the ‘love fixes everything, even mental illness’ rubbish we see so much in films and TV shows.

Very important scientific side-note:

Would you just look at him? *Inserts a million heart eyes emojis*

Harvey Specter GIF

Star Trek: The Next Generation

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek since I was a kid. Everyone knows it’s always been ahead of its time in many ways, but I’ve started to notice recently that it was also ahead of its time in the way it tackled ‘difficult’ subjects like suicide and grief, while normalising the idea of seeing a counsellor.

What I liked…

  • The fact the Enterprise not only had a ship’s counsellor, but that she was an integral part of the bridge crew and a close confidant of the captain. It’s a shame this wasn’t a role that the other Star Trek franchises had.
  • The episode ‘Hero Worship’, in which a young boy attempts to avoid confronting the grief of losing his parents by ‘becoming’ an android and mimicking Data’s mannerisms. With Troi’s guidance, Data forms a strong bond with the child and helps him work through his feelings slowly rather than avoiding them.
  • The episodes following Picard’s assimilation into the Borg collective, as he tries to cope with his trauma and readjust to life back on the Enterprise.
  • The episode where Troi has to help her mother uncover repressed memories of the child she lost. This is all done very symbolically, with Troi delving into her mother’s Betazoid psyche to try and understand the self-preservation mechanisms her mind has put in place. Look out for a very young Kirsten Dunst!
  • Troi as a character. I always admired her integrity, compassion and empathic abilities.
  • Voyager also had a couple of great episodes, my favourite being ‘Extreme Risk’. After finding out all her Maquis friends are dead, B’Elanna starts to deal with her grief in unhealthy ways, such as taking part in extreme holodeck programs with the safety controls off.

…and what I didn’t

  • Nothing! Unless there are any episodes I’ve forgotten about (please comment if so!), as far as I’m concerned, any episodes that dealt with mental health, grief or suicide did so cleverly and sensitively.

Side-notes:

  • Deanna had the most incredible curls and was very much the envy of my frizzy-haired nine year old self.
  • I adore both of these kick-ass ladies and their friendship.

Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher

And a cheeky but very special mention to…Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I could (and probably will) fill an entire blog post with reasons I adore this show – go and watch it, now! It’s funny, relatable and moving in equal measures, and I promise you will fall in love with Rebecca Bunch.

Rebecca Bunch

If you want to watch any of the shows I’ve mentioned, they’re all available on Netflix. You’re welcome.

Ahead of my #TalkMH chat this Thursday, I wanted explore two of my favourite TV shows and look at how they portray mental illness.

Gilmore girls

As much as I hate to say it, because GG is my absolute favourite TV show, I strongly dislike how it portrays therapy.

In season 6, episode 11 (‘The Perfect Dress’), Rory is asked to attend therapy following her recent time away from college. From Lorelai’s initial reaction (‘I can’t believe you’re going to a therapist’ followed by a joke about the old cliché of therapists asking about your mother) to the actual session itself, nothing in this episode is handled sensitively at all.

The scene itself is an absolute farce, starting with Rory’s obvious disdain towards her therapist and ending with over-the-top crying. It makes me cringe every time.

Rory Gilmore crying

Afterwards, she calls Lorelai and opens with, ‘Guess who’s crazy?’

Huh.

I’ll forgive it though, because this episode first aired back in 2005 and let’s be honest, Gilmore girls was never particularly PC.

Fast-forward to 2016 though, and we have the revival episodes. *Warning: Spoilers ahead!*

Sigh. Where to start?

I had high hopes when Lorelai sensitively suggested Emily see a professional to help her through her grief. But then we get to the therapist who seems alright at first, but quickly becomes more and more ridiculous.

Firstly, can we talk about the obvious frustration and lack of empathy she shows when she’s rushing them out of their sessions?

And then, when she turns up in Stars Hollow (I’m sorry, why?!), bounds up to Lorelai (so unprofessional!!) and announces she’s auditioning for the musical, I couldn’t stop myself from sighing. So we’re supposed to believe that Emily and Lorelai were such difficult clients they drove her to give up her career as a therapist in favour of performing in small town musical? Sure. That makes sense.

Girl rolling her eyes

I feel like the therapy was used more as a comedic device than to drive the plot. Case in point: the infamous letter that Emily mentions to Lorelai that never comes up again. I’m not saying therapy can’t or shouldn’t be portrayed in a funny way, I just think the humour here missed the mark. And I was disappointed that we didn’t see the whole thing handled more sensitively.

That said, I liked that Lorelai continued to go by herself, and ultimately her sessions did lead her to somewhat of an epiphany about her own life.

Overall though, not impressed.

The Big Bang Theory

Now, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

I know a lot of people don’t particularly like how Sheldon’s OCD is portrayed but personally I can relate a lot to him.

The rituals (knocking three times), the obsessive need for closure and to an extent his cleanliness, all struck a chord with me.

Sheldon knocking on the door

This is perfectly illustrated in season 7, episode 8 (‘The Itchy Brain Simulation’), when Sheldon likens his need for closure to an ‘itch on his brain’ that leaves him feeling uncomfortable and anxious. I can’t think of a better way to describe OCD. He urges Leonard to walk a mile in his shoes by wearing an itchy jumper. OCD is so difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, so I think it’s particularly clever that Sheldon suggests mimicking it with a physical sensation.

Though Leonard gains a better understanding of his friend’s struggles, he still teases him and calls him crazy. Rather than taking offense though, I applaud the show’s accuracy. It’s been my experience that people often can’t relate, so Leonard’s lack of understanding rang true with me.

In another episode, Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy tries to help him overcome his OCD, by encouraging him to start various tasks without finishing them. Challenging his compulsive need to see everything through is very difficult for Sheldon and I really related to his struggle. The strain is visible on his face and the episode ends with him doing the tasks again, this time to completion.

While some could argue that The Big Bang Theory stigmatises OCD, I would personally disagree. I think it’s great that the show is helping to ‘normalise’ OCD and bring it into the mainstream. More than that, I like that it doesn’t just focus on cleanliness, as of course there’s so much more to it than that. Anything that helps more people realise this is a good thing in my book.

It’s not always a perfect representation, but I find it relatable and at times very sensitively handled.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you can’t make it to the chat (this Thursday 13th April at 8:30pm) please feel free to tweet me, or leave a comment below.

 

 

I’ve been mulling over the latest series of Mr Robot, in particular the complicated relationship between Elliot and Tyrell, and I have some theories.

First of all, while there’s no way Elliot could have completely made up Tyrell (there are far too many holes in that theory), I definitely believe he’s ‘glamorized’ him somewhat, and let his imagination fill in some gaps.

Tyrell has too much power

Elliot has made E-Corp the enemy in his mind (case in point, the fact he refers to it as ‘Evil Corp’), so it makes sense that Tyrell would be an embodiment of this idea. He takes on the role of the ‘classic corporate bad guy’ right from the start, when he ‘kidnaps’ Elliot and has him brought to his boardroom full of lawyers.

Even as interim CTO, it’s hard to believe that he would have that kind of influence, to the point that even the police turn a blind eye. He has a table full of lawyers for a meeting with Elliot, which seems as unnecessary to me as it does unlikely. I suspect that this whole encounter has been warped in Elliot’s head. He even questions it in his mind – ‘Please tell me you’re seeing this too?’

In contrast, when Elliot as Mr Robot meets with Tyrell, it’s very much on his own turf. Tyrell goes out to Coney Island, where Mr Robot leads the meeting and even manages to intimidate him. The balance of power has shifted, and the way the scene is shot is darker, gloomier, and missing the gloss of the earlier boardroom scene.

Tyrell Wellick

Tyrell represents what Elliot wants

I believe that on some level, Elliot wants what Tyrell has. Not the money or power, but the family. Elliot on numerous occasions references his own loneliness and desire for ‘normality’, and as far as I can tell, Tyrell is the first person to enter his life who has that, or at least a version of it.

His therapist has had a string of failed relationships, Angela is dating a douchebag who cheats on her, his sister has commitment issues, and he grew up in an unhappy household. Tyrell on the other hand has an outwardly perfect life, with a beautiful wife, nice home and a baby on the way.

Elliot romanticizes this life. When he meets Joanna for the first time the sky noticeably brightens behind her and the focus softens. In contrast to her threatening words, the scene has an eerie serenity about it, a visual representation of the rose-coloured glasses Elliot sees the Wellicks through.

Joanna Wellick

Tyrell’s life is exaggerated

While it’s clear that Sam Esmail enjoys throwing in homages to classic movies, I think there’s more to it than that.

The American Psycho references turn Tyrell into an extreme version of the typical ‘corporate villain’, and while Tyrell has obviously done some very questionable things, I think there’s an element of exaggeration on Elliot’s part here.

The salute to Fight Club towards the end of season one (‘Where Is My Mind’ playing softly as Elliot and Tyrell stand together in the arcade) led many to believe that Tyrell was Elliot’s Tyler Durden. As I’ve mentioned already, I don’t think this is the case, but I think it could be a subtle suggestion that there are elements of Tyrell’s life that Elliot has made up or embellished.

Fight Club

Another thing I noticed was that we only ever see Joanna eating pickles. It’s the ultimate pregnancy cliché, and perhaps the sort of thing a person like Elliot, whose limited understanding of pregnant women probably comes from movies, would come up with. This one’s a bit of a stretch, as Elliot never actually sees Joanna eating, but I think it’s another subtle suggestion that there’s an element of fiction to Tyrell and Joanna’s life together.

Tyrell’s Facebook profile, where he lists Swedish Hard House as his favourite music and lingonberry jam as one of his likes, could either be interpreted as Tyrell messing with Elliot, knowing he was going to try to hack him, or it could be Elliot’s mind filling in the gaps with Swedish stereotypes. What if he never actually found Tyrell’s profile?

During the sitcom episode in season two, Tyrell continues to be somewhat of a caricature, caring more about his designer shoes than his own well-being. Obviously this whole episode is meant to be darkly funny, but the humour relating to the other characters stems from much deeper things (the abuse Elliot and his sister suffered as children, for example), while Tyrell’s never scrapes below a superficial level. He remains comically shallow, suggesting a lack of deeper understanding of his character on Elliot’s part.

We know that Elliot is an unreliable narrator and we also know that Tyrell is a very complex character. I think in general there’s so much about most of the characters we’re yet to learn, but I predict that the biggest surprises in store will be to do with the Wellicks, and the dynamic between Elliot and Tyrell.

Mr. Robot – 1.9 eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt

Let’s be honest, if you’ve watched Mr Robot you’ll know how much of a roller coaster ride it is from the very beginning.  But the penultimate episode of season 1 is where so many things that have been building up throughout the series come to a head.  Shit gets real guys.  And when Maxence Cyrin’s beautiful piano cover of Where is my Mind plays at the end (a cheeky little nod to Fight Club) I get goose-bumps every time.  That scene between Elliot and Tyrell is a perfect climax to all the tension that’s been building up between them.  Ugh, perfection.

arcade

Star Trek (The Original Series): Operation: Annihilate!

The crew take on a weird race of parasitic aliens that happen to look remarkably like pancakes.  So much so that I successfully found out the name of the episode by searching ‘Star Trek pancake alien episode.’  A childhood favourite.

pancake alien

Friends – The One with the Two Parties

It’s so hard to narrow Friends down to just one favourite episode, and of course for a soppy old romantic like me, the Monica and Chandler proposal might seem like an obvious choice.  Another solid contender was The One with the Video Tape, as it’s so cleverly done.  But I actually chose a slightly more serious episode as I feel like it handled Rachel’s struggle with her parents’ divorce really nicely.  We have a touching moment of bonding between her and Chandler, and I melt when he gently moves Rachel from his arms into Ross’.  So sweet and lovely.  Plus the logistics of the two parties and trying to keep Rachel’s parents from running into each other makes for some great comedy.  Also, this beautiful moment:

Joey kiss Mrs Green

Gilmore girls – Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting

Again, it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one episode.  I’ve chosen this one for three reasons:

  • Friday night dinner. This is so well-done, and I feel like the director let himself get really creative with this scene.  It’s over the top, almost theatrically so, but the dialogue as always is fast-paced and witty.  Plus the POV camera angles put you right into the chaos of all the different arguments going on at once.  It’s an interesting technique used to great effect for the first time in this episode, and never again after.friday nights
  • Lorelai’s fantastic and (for some reason) British impression of her mother. ‘Alert the corgis!’ Makes me laugh every time.
  • Emily: I only wished I’d remembered to call her a cocktail waitress.
    Lorelai: [gasping] Oooh. That’s my mother’s version of the ‘c’ word.

The Office – The Job

I think this pretty much sums it up.

office11

The emotion.  Dreamy sigh.

A close second would be the episode where Jim enlists a friend to masquerade as him and convince Dwight that Jim’s been Asian all along.  I love all of Jim’s pranks on Dwight, but that has to be my favourite.

funny-gif-Asian-Jim-The-Officefunny-gif-Jim-portrait-Asianfunny-gif-portrait-prank-Asian

Parks and Recreation – Halloween Surprise

Because I had to get a proposal episode in here somewhere and this is undoubtedly one of the best.

proposal

LOST – Man of Science, Man of Faith

Our first look down the mysterious hatch.  THE NUMBERS!  So much intrigue.  This is easily one of my favourite episodes of LOST, though I was originally going to go with the episode where Jin and Sun die.  But I didn’t because, y’know, I’m not a monster.

Jin and Sun

No YOU’RE crying.

Brooklyn Nine Nine – Halloween II

Jake attempts to pull off another Halloween heist, this time the Captain’s priceless watch.  A clever episode with a fun twist.

deuce

Star Trek Voyager – Twisted

I don’t know why but this episode has always been a favourite of mine.  A strange phenomenon wreaks havoc with the ship and turns it into a weird twisting labyrinth.

Voyager twisted

Sabrina the Teenage Witch – Pancake Madness

I’m ending this list on an absolute high, obviously.  I can’t decide what makes this episode so great, whether it’s the ridiculous song about pancakes being the answer to the riddle (which I’m physically incapable of stopping myself from singing when I eat pancakes), Harvey’s terrible singing of said song, or the giant syrup bottle Sabrina hallucinates when she’s having pancake withdrawals.  Oh yes, that’s right, the premise of this episode is Sabrina developing a crack-like addiction to pancakes (those pancakey bastards up to no good again!).  Also, the syrup bottle’s name is Mrs Mapleton.  10/10.  Absolute genius.  Watch now.

pancake madness

 

You may have gathered by now that I’m a huge TV lover, given that it’s what I mostly tweet about.  So I thought I’d do a round-up of everything that’s been floating my boat in the world of television.

Mr Robot

This absolutely had to be the first one on my list, as it’s quite simply phenomenal.  I won’t say too much, but basically the series follows Elliot, a cyber-security engineer by day, and vigilante hacker by night.  Sam Esmail has created a gripping drama filled with complex characters whose motives, for the most part, remain a mystery to the viewer.

Filled with clever nods to iconic movies and enough twists and turns to leave you breathless, this is truly unmissable television.  It’s also worth noting that this show has been widely praised for its accurate portrayal of hacking/programming, but at the same time it’s not so technical that it will alienate any not-so-technologically-inclined viewers.

I could literally talk about this show for hours.  Fantastic writing (in particular Elliot’s inner monologues), striking cinematography, and Mac Quayle’s dark and atmospheric score create a captivating, thrilling world that will suck you in and refuse to let go.

The whole experience is rounded off by an incredible cast who add depth and dimension to the host of intriguing characters Esmail has created.  Special mentions go to Rami Malek (Elliot), who brings so much to his character – vulnerability, intensity, and humour – and Swedish actor, Martin Wallström, who plays ‘villain’ Tyrell Wellick.  To call him a villain would be too black and white, and that’s what also makes this show so intriguing; even by the end of the series we still know so little about each character and their motivations that it’s hard to actually label anyone good or bad.

Wallström is a strange mix of charming and unsettling, threatening and child-like.  Watching his character unravel is fascinating, and it’s oddly difficult not to feel sympathy for him as, unhinged and desperate, he tries to claw his way back to the top.

Season one is on DVD now.  Season two starts 13th July.  If you watch just one show on my list, make it this one.

Elliot

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

It’s impossible not to love this feel-good offering from Tina Fey.  The show follows Kimmy, who is adjusting to life in New York City after being rescued from 15 years spent in an underground bunker as part of a doomsday cult.  Doesn’t exactly sound cheery, but cheery it is, and ridiculously so.  Ellie Kemper is wonderful as the relentlessly optimistic Kimmy, and Jane Krakowski is as fantastically self-absorbed and altogether ridiculous as she was in 30 Rock.

If you haven’t watched this show already, where have you been?  Watch both seasons now on Netflix.
 kimmy

The Bridge

I’m a little bit obsessed with Nordic Noir, and for me The Bridge is crime drama at its absolute finest.  Well-crafted and perfectly-paced, each ten episode season follows one case, and guarantees a dizzying, emotional climax.

Season one begins with a body found on the Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden, and the bridge remains a pivotal part of the show throughout, symbolising the relationship not only between the two countries, but our two lead detectives, Martin and Saga.

It really is their chemistry that makes the show great.  He is the classic maverick cop, likeable yet flawed, while she is blunt, uptight and a stickler for the rules.  While their clashing personalities and resulting disagreements could easily seem contrived, instead it feels natural as we watch them grow together, and better each other.

I’m very much hoping for a fourth season, but in the meantime there’s certainly no shortage of Scandinavian crime shows that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.  Next up will probably be The Killing, or Blue Eyes, which I’ve recently had highly recommended.

A big fan of Kenneth Brannagh’s Wallander (rumoured to be returning for a new season soon, hurrah!), I’m keen to check out the original.

And one to look forward to…

…Gilmore girls!

I couldn’t exactly write this post without mentioning the upcoming Gilmore Girls reunion.  If you’re a die-hard Gilly (a term coined by the awesome Gilmore Guys – seriously, check out their podcast if you haven’t already) like me, you’ll already know what’s being planned.  Four 90 minute episodes set during and named after each season.

No news on a release date yet, though rumour has it we will get our first installment late 2016/early 2017.  I’m literally bursting with excitement, and not at all ashamed to admit I wept with joy when the official announcement was made.  Finally we will get the ending (and those infamous final four words) that Amy Sherman-Palladino had planned for us, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will be everything we hoped for and more.

gilmore girls