Jewish Journal

On-Screen Addiction

by Zan Romanoff

July 22, 2013 | 5:15 pm

Addiction is a tough thing to talk about on a television show. It's a disease that defies the typical narrative arc: there's a slow start and a long middle, and getting treatment never guarantees that anyone will stay sober. So it tends to be relegated to Very Special Episodes or dealt with sparingly. Nashville's first season did a good job of portraying Deacon's alcoholism, both in sobriety and in relapse; it did the painful but necessary work of reminding viewers that addicts aren't addicts because they aren't loved or supported, necessarily, but because they're people who are sick. A particularly heart-rending late season scene showed his young neice pleading with him to sober up, and Deacon telling his sponsor he that he knew what he'd done and needed to start over, only to sneak off to the shower to drink in private. That's the true, terrible story of addiction in all of its various forms: that it isolates people who are loved and well-supported, that sometimes it makes it impossible for us to love them and support them the way that we want to.

So I was deeply disappointed by one of the storylines on last week's second episode of Camp, which featured one of the senior counselors, Robbie, dealing with his mother's gambling addiction. They don't call it that on the show-- Robbie always refers to his mother's problem, taking great care to minimize it, insisting that it only flares up every now and again. While the rest of the camp competes in a color war she calls him from a local casino asking for a ride, asking him to lend her the rent money she's gambled away and then, when he gets her the money she needs, going back to gamble it, too. That particular day it happens to work out, netting her several thousand dollars that she insists will keep her comfortable for a long time coming. They argue about whether he should go to law school (she thinks he's not smart enough for Stanford) and make up when she buys him a day planner with her winnings, writing a supportive note in the front.

It was distressing to watch the levity with which the show treated the issue, instead making it out to be about affection and attention. His girlfriend Sarah couldn't understand why he didn't want to have to bail his mother out yet again; "she's your mother," Sarah kept saying, essentially guilting Robbie for not caring enough. The episode ends with the two of them laughing in the kitchen together, taking quarters to scratch off lotto tickets. I couldn't help flashing back to earlier in the episode, when Robbie talked about a childhood of living in fear that the electricity would get shut off or the car reposessed, to the scene in which his mother gives him scratchers for his eleventh birthday and then has to use his money on utilities. Everyone has the right to handle the addicts in their lives in their own ways, of course, but it was depressing to see her behavior normalized and accepted, to essentially be told that Robbie would be wrong to cut her off, to witness the notion that addicts just need to be loved to be healed reinforced on-screen.

The rest of the episode wasn't much better, shlocky and heavy-handed, without the fun summer romp vibe that kept the pilot on the move. I'll give the show another week, but my guess is that's it's over for me and Camp-- my first summer fling already fizzling itself out.

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