Our Favorite Fictional Shrinks and Their Multiple Personalities
By CT Goodson
While we may never know what outrageous tactic The Marriage Counselor will use next or from which school of thought his zany methods are derived, we can always count on something thoroughly shocking if not downright disordered when he attempts to guide the couples that come to him for treatment. In any case, The Marriage Counselor has a style all his own, untainted by traditional perceptions of what pop culture has taught viewers to think shrinks are all about.
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As entertainment has evolved, the conventional television or movie therapist has evolved right alongside it. Dr. Bellows of I Dream of Jeannie introduced TV viewers to psychiatry in the NASA setting and provided the stepping stone for more intense psychiatry in the form of M*A*S*H*’s guest shrink, Dr. Sidney Freedman. Drs. Lilith and Frasier Crane whetted our appetites in the 1980s on Cheers to the less serious side of neurosis and left us open to the likes of Dr. Sobel of Analyze This and Analyze That and Dr. Tobias Fünke of Arrested Development.
The evolution of pop culture psychiatry was made possible with footholds carved out by the following primetime shrinks, all of whom seem to have their own issues to deal with.
Dr. Alfred E. Bellows, aka Hayden Rorke – I Dream of Jeannie, 1965-1970.
Dr. Bellows was cool as a cucumber in every bizarre situation from which he always seemed to find Major Nelson trying to extricate himself. Under that cool exterior though, was a keen eye for the extraordinary and a suspicious nature that were the driving force behind his pursuit of uncovering exactly what Nelson and his Jeannie were up to at any given time. His psychiatric training did very little to assuage his inner conflict that he himself might just be a wee bit mad, as he was never really able to figure out their antics.
Dr. Sidney Freedman, aka Allan Arbus – M*A*S*H*, 1973-1983.
A good egg that penetrated the soul, Dr. Freedman could always get to the heart of the matter, even when dealing with the deep themes of surviving the horrors of war. From the cross-dressing to the delusional, Dr. Freedman either freed or forged acceptance of the tortured souls of the M*A*S*H* unit with his kind demeanor, gentle probing and sometimes clever deductions. Compassion is the key trait that comes to mind when Freedmen, who upon having met the cross‐dressed Corporal Klinger asked, “What’s your name, honey?”
Dr. Frasier Crane, aka Kelsey Grammer – Cheers, 1984-1993; Frasier, 1993-2004.
Aside from Marshall Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke, there is no other TV character that has enjoyed the duration of a twenty-year stint portrayed by the same actor. Dr. Crane was the psychiatrist we loved to analyze. Delightfully pompous with an overblown ego derived from his Oxford education; pop culture’s beloved Frasier was able to put aside his personal neuroses to share his calmer, more thoughtful side with his clients and as a radio host. His gullibility and trust in others were his most endearing qualities, overriding his personal battle with negativity, which often revealed itself through crisp sarcasm.
Dr. Ben Sobel, aka Billy Crystal – Analyze This, 1999; Analyze That, 2002.
A doctor that knows none of his own boundaries and faces plenty of his own personal challenges, Dr. Sobel was a persistent, hands‐on kind of guy. He allowed his panic-stricken mafia patient to delve into his personal life and then plot to murder him. Sobel always believed he could help his patient in Analyze This and then again in Analyze That. Helping the same mob guy akin to a much lighter side of The Sopranos, Sobel took full ownership of his patient; he had him released from the penitentiary to his custody for therapy and surprisingly found himself on the right side of the greater good.
Dr. Jennifer Melfi, aka Lorraine Bracco – The Sopranos, 1999‐2007.
The Dr. Melfi character was almost singlehandedly responsible for elevating a drama series to a penetrating depiction of the inner workings of a stressed and conflicted mob criminal. Her struggle with her revulsion for his lifestyle was only enhanced for us by her fascination with his struggle. Her complete understanding of how Soprano’s mind worked made us look forward to their sessions as much as we looked forward to the next designated hit.
Dr. Charles Kroger, aka Stanley Kamel – Monk, 2002-2008.
As calm as Dr. Bellows and as completely immersed in his patient’s dilemma as Dr. Sobel, Charles Kroger is tolerant to a fault. He barely bats an eye when Monk has his pre-sorted garbage delivered to this patient man’s home. Even when Monk can’t help but let the crazy come out, Kroger uses his incisive understanding of Monk to literally talk him into sanity, which is a good thing for both Monk, and the San Francisco crime detail.
Dr. Tobias Fünke, aka David Cross – Arrested Development, 2003-2006.
Dr. Tobias Fünke’s psychiatric issues are as outrageous as they are brilliantly funny when portrayed by David Cross. Although Dr. Fünke lost his license to practice when he gave CPR to a man who didn’t need it, he still considered himself a therapist whose true calling was to be an actor. While Fünke failed miserably in his pursuit of a thespian career, he succeeded in entertaining us with demonstrations of his various phobias – the least of which was “never-nude” syndrome. His frequent Freudian slips about gay sex called his knowledge of his own sexuality into question as well as his success in the gay community with his self‐help book, “The Man Inside Me”. Laughable to tears, we hope that Dr. Fünke is the physician who does NOT heal himself.
Dr. Linda Freeman, aka Jane Lynch – Two and a Half Men, 2004-2011.
Only two and a half men, but a full caseload of crazy for Dr. Freeman. She was originally the caring character counselor that would see Jake through his adjustment issues involving his parents’ divorce. She was also slated to help Alan with his anxiety. And then she was there for Charlie. Charlie Harper and Dr. Freeman were bound by an alchemic comic relief. The combination of the doctor’s dry wit and the patient’s apparent mother issues, as well as the need for a good insanity defense, should the need ever arise, gave us an artful and cleverly entertaining look into the character of Charlie Harper – and perhaps Mr. Sheen.
Dr. Benjamin “Ben” Harmon, aka Dylan McDermott – American Horror Story, 2011.
Dr. Harmon was the guy we loved to hate. He was handsome. He was masculine. He was a sensitive therapist. He cried a lot. He cheated on his wife and moved his family into a house that eventually became haunted by the college co-ed with whom he cheated. But we still watched Dr. Ben as he juggled the taming of his own monsters while deftly medicating the monsters that had appointments.
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CT Goodson is an independent writer from Chicago. She is an active board member of a Chicago area writers group that promotes the education and support of writers of all genres. She is currently working on a novel and deftly managing life’s chaos with the help of a little fictional psychiatry.