Perceptions of Perception

20120821-233647.jpgThere’s an interesting new show on Monday nights (10 pm ET) on TNT. Perception stars Eric McCormack (of Will and Grace fame) as Dr. Daniel Pierce, a neuroscience professor with paranoid schizophrenia who works with the FBI to help solve complex cases. His hallucinations actually help him discover the truth as they reveal connections that his conscious mind hasn’t yet processed. If you’ve ever worked through a real life problem in a dream and woken up with the answer, this doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

I’m always fascinated by TV series and movies that feature characters with brain disorders. Monk and As Good As It Gets have lead characters with OCD and based on my experience, give a pretty accurate portrayal of the impact this disorder can have. I adored A Beautiful Mind which I assume is reasonably accurate since it’s based on the biography of John Nash. Moving to the opposite end of the “believability” spectrum is Fringe which features a “mad scientist”, Dr. Walter Bishop, who suffers from a unidentified brain disorder which, we learn, is likely a result of a lobectomy that his former friend and colleague performed (taking the concept of “losing one’s mind” to a whole different level).

One of the things all these stories have in common is the way they endear us (Melvin Udall aside) to the mentally ill. They help us see people with brain disorders not as freaks or homicidal maniacs, but as real people struggling to work and live meaningful lives despite their illness. I believe shows like these may have the power, over time, to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.

On the other hand, it concerns me that Perception leads viewers to believe a person with schizophrenia can stop taking his meds and still be highly functioning. Dr. Pierce refuses to take medications for his schizophrenia, (he views it as a gift) yet he is still able to teach at a University level. Like with most illnesses, I’m sure people who have schizophrenia suffer different degrees of impairment. The few people I know, however, go off the grid when they stop taking their meds. They wind up homeless, muttering incessantly, unable to take even the most basic care of themselves. Of course if Dr. Pierce WAS taking meds, he probably wouldn’t hallucinate and we’d be left with just another murder/suspense drama with a really smart expert consultant not unlike Bones but with less-decayed victims.

Anyway, season 1 of Perception began July 9th and has already been renewed for next year. Episodes (starting with 3) can be watched at TNTdrama by customers of certain TV providers (Charter, AT&T, Dish, DirectTV, Comcast, a few others but NOT Time Warner). All episodes can be purchased at Vudu, Amazon, or iTunes. If you’ve been watching or decide to check it out, let me know what you think. I’d particularly like to hear from those of you with loved ones who have schizophrenia.

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