Some TV shows portray addiction well: “Tyrant,” “Mom,” and “Aquarius.” And a real life one, too: “Bachelorette.”
A Variety of Popular TV Shows Portray Alcoholism Accurately
Several popular TV shows fail to show addictive use of drugs in the portrayal of criminal perpetrators, including “Criminal Minds” and most episodes of the “Law and Order” spin-offs. While nearly all felons are alcohol or other-drug addicts, many shows lead the uninitiated to believe that any old Dick or Jane could have committed the awful crime(s) depicted. This is so wrong it can ruin an otherwise excellent show for the addiction aware.
Conversely, it’s a pleasure watching television in which the root cause of misbehaviors is identified as addiction; even a brief moment depicting the addiction may be all that’s needed to make sense of the characters and events. Several shows are doing a bang-up job of accurately portraying the addict: “Tyrant” (FX), “Mom” (CBS) and “Aquarius” (NBC). And, the recent “Kaitlyn” Bachelorette season (ABC) does so unwittingly.
In what may be too realistic for some, in “Tyrant,” created and directed by Gideon Raff (“Homeland”), Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed (Adam Rayner) and his American family reluctantly return to his home country, the fictional middle-East Abbudin, for his nephew’s wedding. His father, who rules Abbudin in semi-despotic fashion, dies during the wedding week and the “brutal and unstable” older brother, Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), takes the reins of power. Barry, in classic Idealist (for Keirseyan Temperament enthusiasts; iNtuitive Feeler in Myers-Briggs terms) fashion, tries to influence his brother to be a munificent ruler but slowly comes to realize his brother is capable of atrocities. Early on, after showing enough alcoholic consumption required to prove addiction, we addictionologists know what Jamal is capable of—and he has not disappointed. Barhom’s portrayal as an erratic alcoholic despot is perfect, while Rayner’s portrayal of an Idealist is among the best I’ve ever seen.
“Mom,” produced by Chuck Lorre of “Two and a Half Men” fame, follows the travails of two recovering addicts, Bonnie and Christy Plunkett, a mom and daughter duo played by Allison Janney and Anna Faris. How Lorre is able to fill scenes with so much comedy is as much a testament to his writers (and he is often one of them) as to Faris, who ranks among the greats of comedy and comedic timing. The portrayal of two very different recovering addicts is also second-to-none for those aware that there are as many styles of addiction and recovery as there are addicts on the planet. Bonnie’s relapse in season 2 is perfect in every way, from the simplest of triggers to the inability of her closest AA friends to see what is all too obvious to the addiction aware. (The late David Keirsey admonished, “observe behaviors” to determine Temperament; I simply applied the idea to alcoholism.)
“Aquarius” stars David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, an LAPD detective, investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl who, he comes to find, has succumbed to the charms of a young Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony of “Game of Thrones” fame). While there is little shown (so far) to suggest Manson is the full-on substance addict his behaviors indicate, Hodiak is a recovering alcoholic whose past included beating up his estranged alcoholic wife. In one of the early episodes Hodiak’s relapse takes shape in don Juan-ism, lying and having others, including female detective Charmain Tully (Claire Holt), lie about a cop shooting. This prompts a classic exchange, where Tully tells Hodiak, “My father is an unreliable, morally ambiguous, charming drunk.” Hodiak asks, “So?” to which Tully responds, “You know what you smell like to me? Home cooking.” Indeed. Wherever we observe charm in conjunction with moral ambiguity and unreliability, addiction should be suspected; we’ll usually find it.
“Aquarius” also reminds us that the current anti-police mentality is not the first time in U.S. history honest citizens have had to stand by in horror as good cops are attacked. The “anti-pig” attitude of the late ‘60s was breathtaking in scope. The lead hippies of the generation were, no doubt, mostly (if not all) alcohol and other-drug addicts; the “liberal” leftists/statists leading the fray today are no doubt the same, as they give excuse after excuse for addicts committing crimes (see: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown) and convince codependent followers that cops are the bad guys.
The “Bachelorette” follows one woman (this season Kaitlyn Bristowe), as she tries to find “true love” by dating a group of single men. The season started out with a bang, as Ryan M. (the “junkyard specialist”) got so stinking drunk the first night he was “asked” to leave. He engaged in classic alcoholic behavior: belittling others, frequently a great clue to addiction even if nothing else is observable. “The place is dead anyway,” he snivels, when he is the only one jumping into the pool in his underwear. When Shawn E. arrives in his “hot tub” car (a convertible with welded doors, filled with water), Ryan does it again: “[Your] car sucks.” When Shawn suggests they talk inside, Ryan responds, “No we won’t. You suck. Now I’m the bad guy?” In typical narcissistic alcoholic fashion he says, referring to the other guys, “They really love me.” I’ve long suggested videos of alcoholics acting badly may be part and parcel of the most effective interventions; it will delight the addictionologist in me if he shows up on the “men tell all” episode near the end with a story of “trying sobriety.”
Since 10% of us consist of alcohol/other-drug addicts, we know there are likely at least one or two additional drunks among the 25. We would not be disappointed. Kupah (“entrepreneur”) was almost assuredly under the influence when he was thrown off the show the 2nd week, which would explain his truly bizarre and erratic behaviors that night. I’d suggest Tony the “healer,” (who seemed to me—how to put it—“off”), JJ the manipulative “former” investment banker and JJ’s now former friend Clint, the architectural engineer with whom JJ had a fabulously weird bromance, belong in the “under watch” category. I’d also look to software sales executive Nick’s behaviors, which are attention-seeking, both this season and last (“Andi’s” season) as suggestive of substance addiction. If nothing else, he’s simply creepy (and what Kaitlyn sees in him is beyond me).
The naiveté of the other bachelors towards Ryan M’s obvious alcoholism was stunning, even if normal. Tanner said (paraphrasing), “The whole situation with the cameras and two bachelorettes got the best of him and he let the alcohol take over.” He tried to talk some sense into Ryan and said, “I think Ryan’s having some fun; he likes to drink.” Brady (who also left the first night, but only because he went after rejected bachelorette Britt) said, “There’s a certain gentleman who’s enjoying himself quite a bit tonight.” Corey said, “I don’t know how much he drank before he got here, but he’s the guy.” Jonathan: “Alcohol takes over some people and kind of gets in the way and only amplifies your actual personality.” Commenting about Kaitlyn’s warning to Ryan, “Hey Ryan, don’t touch my ass again,” Clint commented, “It’s just immature.” Yes, but it’s rooted in alcoholism, without which the immaturity would be much less likely. Alcoholism doesn’t amplify the personality—it changes the personality, and Ryan is “enjoying” himself only as an alcoholic can when that amped up. He likes to drink because it makes him feel like he’s God; he didn’t let alcohol take over because everything got the best of him—it took over because his biochemistry processes the drug in a way that causes him to act like God.
Oddly, JJ was the only guy who got it right: while implying at first he could “fix” Ryan, he told him, “The bar says they have another drink for you.” After asking, “I’m just curious, why are you taking your shirt off?” he spelled it out: “I think you’re a drunk and an alcoholic.”
(For Myers-Briggs/Keirseyan Temperament enthusiasts, I suspect Kaitlyn is an ENFP—the most effervescent of Idealists—likely with an Artisan parent (or two). Her verbiage commonly includes perfectly Idealist lines including, “All I want to be is true to myself.” Words others use to describe her include “genuine,” which is a trait and undying need of Idealists. Host Chris Harrison told Kaitlyn, “When I told you [that] you were the Bachelorette, the first thing you did was you went to Brit,” who was the competing Bachelorette for the first night only; this shows an Idealist’s measure of caring and concern. While many of the date activities she chooses suggest she is an Artisan—and she’s a dance instructor, a typically Artisan occupation—Idealists often look and act like other types. This is especially true as a result of trying to please parents with Temperaments different from their own; Idealists are so good at emulating them, I’ve seen questions to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator answered as their parents would have responded.)