The buzz going around on my google news alerts is on Eric McCormack’s performance as a brilliant neuroscience professor with paranoid schizophrenia. I’m intrigued to say the least. You know, I tend to bash the cop shows on the TV because they tend to portray people who happen to have schizophrenia as, well, criminals and yet here we have someone as the “hero” of the show with the illness.
To say that such a thing could be a breakthrough is an understatement. Unfortunately, I think the show will currently only be available in the United States on TNT, so I don’t know if I will be able to review it any time soon. My two major concerns involve the portrayal of schizophrenia and its use of a plot device. As this review from the Arizona Republic describes some of the plot.
While this adds a twist to what would otherwise be an average crime drama, it also means that the audience never knows whether a scene is actually happening. Essentially, the writers can take the plot in any direction they want without much regard for reality. For some viewers, this will be a neat trick. For others, it will be maddening.
These aren’t any ordinary hallucinations — they’re people who appear in his mind to point out clues in various cases. If that sounds like a cop-out, Pierce’s friend reminds him that, “Sometimes these hallucinations tell you things that your conscious mind can’t make sense of.”
The biggest problem for accurate portrayals of schizophrenia is that the disorganized and disjointedness of the hallucinations and delusions tend to not be able to translate well into a linear plot. Thus even when we have positive portrayals of mental illness like A Beautiful Mind the illness can come off as far more coherent than it actually is.
The other related problem that I identify with this review is that the show may run the risk of reducing the illness to a plot device and/or gimmick. Personally there have been some links between my delusions and hallucinations with reality, however it is much more tenuous than I think the show will be. For instance, during my relapse I was convinced I was going to die quickly and suddenly and this irrational fear was related to a frustration I felt that there was no place for me in this world. My dreams and nightmares too can be tied by my illness to things going on in my life, however it seems to me a bit of a stretch to have repetitive crime-solving hallucinations. I’m saying it could be done right in a way that changes our thinking about schizophrenia and how people who have that illness perceive reality but it could also be done wrong.
As things go there will be good along with the bad. One the whole it seems at least to me worth giving a chance, particularly because of the potential positive yet flawed role Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) represents. At the very least it is refreshing to have a crime drama which inverts the traditional role reserved for those with mental illness and I think that is worth giving a lot of chance too, even if I am skeptical of accuracy.
UPDATE This review in the New York Times confirms some of my fears. Excerpt:
Of course this is TV-fantasy schizophrenia, in which mental illness is both a personal curse and a crime-solving blessing.
But across the four early episodes provided for review, Pierce’s hallucinations are already beginning to feel like stunts covering up for a lack of ideas.
Personally, I still believe that there is potential in the flawed but gifted portrayal of schizophrenia. However, reading that review makes me feel that the show may unfortunately reduce the illness to a silly plot gimmick. I still intend to give it a shot if it comes to Canada. However, this is enough to make me uneasy with it.
Perception starts airing tonight (Mondays) at 9:00 PM Central, 10 PM Pacific and Eastern on TNT