Well, Hollywood's done it again, trying to incorporate a character with diabetes into their storyline. This time, the entertainment industry has bestowed diabetes on one of the main characters in TNT's new hit TV show, Men of a Certain Age. While the show has been receiving rave media reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times, the reviews on its star diabetic have been mixed at best.
For background: The show stars three middle-aged men, Joe (played by Ray Romano), Terry (played by Scott Bakula) and Owen (played by Andre Braugher), who are best friends, and of course the triad play off each others strengths and weaknesses. Owen is a father of two who works for his father at a car dealership. He's a bit down on his luck and not happy working with Dad, who isn't the nicest guy. On top of that, Owen has diabetes, which he exacerbates by drinking, eating too much, and not exercising enough.
But what kind of portrayal is this show giving diabetes? First off, it doesn't ever say which type of diabetes Owen actually has. Big minus points there. The differences between the two are so striking that the only way this show is going to make sense is by offering some clarity. There isn't even enough substance to draw conclusions based on actions either, though the Washington Post states that Owen's "developed diabetes as a result of his weight." Owen is constantly being berated and made fun of by his friends and co-workers for liking to eat, but in one scene, a co-worker is grossed out when Owen goes to take an insulin injection. The diabetes, at the end of the day, seems to be just an example of how Owen is failing at his life. Not a very positive spin at an already demonized chronic condition, is it?
The show seems to be aggrandizing the portrayal of Owen as an out-of-control diabetic, who doesn't do much to help himself. In another scene, Owen goes on a hike with his friends, without testing or bringing along any glucose tabs or juice. The predictable crisis of this scene is that Owen drops dangerously low and passes out. And his friends have no idea how to help him! Instead, while he's unconscious, they drive him back to the Emergency Room without appearing to have a clue about what to do, or that Owen needs glucose or a glucagon injection. Clearly, Owen has not done his part in educating his friends and put himself at risk.
Some folks at TuDiabetes have criticized the writers for showing Owen taking insulin before going on a hike. Are the writers trying to create an accurate portrayal of character who doesn't take care of himself? Or are they simply using diabetes as a means for heightened drama? My guess is the latter, which means that they are probably not trying to be particularly helpful in educating the viewing audience about the day-to-day life of an average PWD.
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So that was episode No. 1. How is diabetes handled in the second episode? Predictably, it isn't. Although there's some mention of Owen's overeating, there's not much direct discussion about his diabetes at all. Will this be a continuing trend? Let's hope not. Usually a character with diabetes is a one-shot plot device used in medical dramas and bad movies, but this time, we have a lead character on what looks to be a popular TV show. Let's hope that the writers: 1) don't drop the subject like a hot potato, and 2) use their power wisely to actually portray something realistic.
Want to see Men of a Certain Age for yourself? You can check it out Mondays at 10 pm on TNT.