ABC’s new series “Black Box” takes us back into the realm of the medical genius that we’re starting to see more of on TV in the last decade. And while this new series is one that explores the complexities of mental illness, who’s to say that the medical brilliance seen in similar characters of the long and recent past weren’t technically borderline sick in the head? The situation they were in alone was enough to cause problems in their life to instigate being a bit paranoid about what people thought of them. The good news in those characters is the shows that featured them were comedies or dramedies to avoid taking it too seriously.
What characters have there been where we could technically deem them to be in need of perhaps a small dose of Prozac?
“Doogie Houser M.D.”
With Neil Patrick Harris’s monumental success recently on “How I Met Your Mother” and being the supreme award show host, it’s hard to imagine he played a medical prodigy 25 years ago. Probably going against the odds, this show was a Top 10 hit for its first two years. And while mostly comedy, it showed some of the situations a young medical talent has to go through in the way of scrutiny had it been allowed in the real world.
In reality, you don’t really see doctors below 18 perhaps because of Doogie Houser. To date, the world has only seen two documented cases of teens below the age of 18 becoming doctors. How they’ve functioned since starting their practices isn’t known, though we should never forget that “Doogie Houser M.D.” was really a dramedy in the bigger picture. It tackled some of the hottest medical topics of the day, and we see Doogie Houser deal with the frustrations of trying to solve them all.
The original intention for the final episode was showing Doogie becoming disaffected by medicine and deciding to become a writer. In the end, we saw Houser resign from his medical practice anyway as a sign that what doctors have to go through are enough to bring a perpetual depression that no person should have to bear.
Mandy Patinkin has always been brilliant in portraying intense characters, and his Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on “Chicago Hope” set up the serious look at a brilliant surgeon who happens to have some mental illness. In his case, it was one of the first examinations on TV of PTSD due to Geiger’s wife drowning their son a number of years earlier.
While this led to inevitable problems and even dismissals, the Geiger character seemed to stand tall. Even when Patinkin left the show for a while, he returned and made Dr. Geiger even more victorious. By the end of the series run, he’d taken a higher position as a Chairman of the Board as a metaphorical sign his mental illness didn’t drive him from the medical field.
If there’s any better medical show that displayed the line between madness and brilliance, only “Black Box” could potentially rival it. While obviously a parallel for Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Greg House was once almost as popular as Sherlock Holmes is again now. It shows how interested the public is with brilliant medical characters that also seem to have their brains wired slightly differently from everybody else.
While addicted to Vicodin, would we have to designate House to be mentally disturbed? Based on some of the episodes, we’d almost have to say yes until we find out why he had to act that way in order to make a roundabout and obscure medical point. As with Sherlock Holmes, we’re never sure if he’s straight mad or just using madness to get to the truth when he has to.
Following this lead, it gave “House” a unique spin on what’s acceptable in professional fields when you have someone identical in real life. While there’s likely few to any like House in the real world, let’s hope we don’t see a new TV show that shows a medical genius using his knowledge for diabolical purposes rather than solving complex medical cases.
If anything, “Black Box” will now show us the benevolent side from a female perspective. Also, it’s going to show us the true face of mental illness, even as it exists in crucially professional arenas.