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Monday, June 15, 2009

Mental Lapse

Perhaps the most difficult human condition to understand is mental illness. Lots of movies and TV shows have tried to paint us a picture. The newest creation to try this is the TV show Mental (Fox).

British actor Chris Vance as Dr. Jack Gallagher leads the cast of Mental. You may recognize Vance from Prison Break where he played the character James Whistler. Other cast members of Mental include Derek Webster, Annabella Sciorra, and Jacqueline McKenzie.

The pilot episode follows newly hired director Dr. Jack Gallagher as he shakes up the staff at a Los Angeles hospital specializing in treating the mentally ill. Dr. Gallagher is part detective, part rebel, and all around miracle worker. Dr. Gallagher's hospital staff is extremely rigid and somewhat institutionalized themselves. The plot of this pilot focuses on Vincent: a talented patient who has gone off his meds. It's Dr. Gallagher's job to figure out why.

My first impression of this show is that it is very stiff. The characters, the patients, and the plot are as rigid as an icicle in January. And except for the first incident with Vincent, this is the most orderly, quiet, and sterile psych unit in the world. I'm thinking that the producers, the director, and the cast of this show are over medicated.

My second impression is that, intentionally or not, the producers of Mental have cloned the TV show House. You have a British actor portraying a brilliant and rebellious doctor. You have a smart, dark haired woman who is the hospital administrator and romantically linked to the good doctor. The doctor had a rough childhood. The rest of the staff is cute but clueless. Sound like House?
What makes me an authority on mental illness? I worked on a psych ward for over five years. This TV show doesn't successfully project the chaos and energy of a psychiatric unit (think ER). Most of the patients I met were extremely interesting people. And the staff I worked with was the most oddball group of people I've ever met (think M.A.S.H.). And the stories I could tell you.

Mental could get better if several things happen. The writers of this show have to develop more interesting characters and stories. The producers have to develop a show that is not a clone of the TV show House. Mental has to become edgier. The reason the TV show ER is edgy is that the show's patients are not from Beverly Hills and the ER is always understaffed.

Prognosis: Mental has a very flat affect and is nearly comatose. But with the proper care, the patient may get better and eventually may even thrive.

Treatment: 500mg of edginess (PRN). 1,000mg of originality (QID) and no bed rest.