'Black Box' stretches limit of believability

Black Box. (YouTube/ABC)

Black Box. (YouTube/ABC)

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:58 PM ET

The black and white of it is, we live in a TV world with zombies and vampires and human clones and time-travellers and whatever the hell you want to call any of the characters on Game of Thrones. So I realize pinning the word “unrealistic” on the new series Black Box has a certain amount of irony to it.

But I guess it all depends on the degree of realism that is implied in the setup of any series. Game of Thrones exists in a fantastical world, so we accept all kinds of crazy crap. But Black Box – which debuts Thursday, April 24 on ABC – is supposed to be more “real,” and thus is held to a different standard of believability.

Black Box stars Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) as Dr. Catherine Black, a world-famous neurologist nicknamed “the Marco Polo of the brain." But Catherine is carrying a big secret: She is bipolar.

Now, the creator of Black Box, Amy Holden Jones, clearly knows mountains about this, as her father was a physician and cancer researcher who also was bipolar. So I would imagine some of the situations in Black Box have been inspired by personal experience. But I only can consider how Black Box comes across as a TV show, and as it's presented, it seems a bit far-fetched.

While Catherine is “fine” if she stays on her medication, she admits in the first episode that she has “a history of non-compliance.” Meaning, she occasionally goes off her meds for the incredible mental rush it provides. Well, occasionally is the wrong word. Regularly is more like it.

And that's where Black Box locks up for me. Catherine supposedly is world-famous, but her off-med episodes of extreme behaviour can be very public. Yet the series maintains the premise that nobody at Catherine's place of employment is aware of her condition. If her off-med episodes all were private, then I might buy it. But not when she's dancing on ledges, getting all sexed up in hotel hallways and threatening strangers on the street.

Catherine has a brother, played by David Chisum, who helps to cover up her shenanigans. And she has a psychiatrist, played by Vanessa Redgrave, who is trying to convince Catherine that the meds don't doom her to mediocrity, but rather ensure she'll be alive long enough to do even greater things. But Catherine is not consistently convinced.

I guess another question would be, why would it matter if a select group of Catherine's co-workers knew about her condition? It gives her a unique sense of empathy with many of her patients. And as long as she isn't a surgeon, what's the big deal? Wouldn't telling her co-workers make her life immeasurably easier? I mean, it has been well-established that she is great at her job, so what would be the down side?

Hey, maybe there are plenty. Again, I don't know anything about how this would work in real life. But if you don't have any first-hand experience and you simply are watching Black Box, these are the brain-teasers you'll be mulling.

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