TV shows are taking a totally different approach to mental health issues, and it's an improvement
In the theme song for the CW musical tragicomedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, when Rebecca Bunch (played by creator/star Rachel Bloom) hears the title of her show sung back to her, she first snaps back that this is a “sexist term,” and then points out that “the situation is a lot more nuanced than that.” Though audience members have spent the freshman season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend armchair diagnosing Bunch, the theme song is right on the money- whatever problems Bunch has, she is a complicated character and can’t be dismissed with a cursory “crazy.”
Nuanced is the watchword these days when it comes to portraying mental health on television. Indeed, as The Hollywood Reporter pointed out this week, a number of shows this past year a number of shows stepped up to the plate to offer a well-researched and authentic take on mental illness. From Jessica Jones‘ PTSD to Mr. Robot‘s dissociative Elliot, characters are living with illnesses that have not been frequently seen displayed by leading men and lady on television in the past.
It’s not just dramas that are dealing with issues of mental health in a complicated and realistic way, but comedies as well. FX’s half-hour You’re the Worst received tremendous praise this year for its depiction of leading lady Gretchen’s experience with depression.
“In terms of depression, I realize when you take something like that on, there is a certain amount of responsibility,” creator Stephen Falk told The Hollywood Reporter.“The goal is always to make sure we got it right and that it’s right for our character. If anything, I hope to shine more light onto it.”
Meanwhile, on Orange is the New Black, a Netflix hour categorized as a comedy, this past season spent significant time with Lolly, an inmate whom Lori Petty, who plays the character, describes as living with paranoid schizophrenia.
“Lolly’s very intelligent and they both also have mental illness,” Petty told THR, referring to her own character and the yet-t0-be-officially diagnosed Suzanne AKA “Crazy Eyes.” “We have very different mental illnesses, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be funny or smart just because you have paranoid schizophrenia.”
Petty’s words sum up the sea change in how mental illness has been treated on television as of late. A character is no longer reduced down to a disorder. It’s a large part of who they are, but it’s just a part of who they are. We look forward to seeing more authentic and complicated portrayals of characters living with mental illness in seasons to come.