Whether at the center of a show’s theme, or a casual prop to set a scene, alcohol plays a role in many TV shows, both old and new. From soap operas and sitcoms to detective series and reality shows, it seems as though alcohol use has become something we expect to see on our screens at this point.
All levels of alcohol use are covered on TV as well. From high school or college parties, bar scenes, or a casual drink at dinner, the number of times alcohol use appears on TV would tally up to a massive amount pretty quickly. For instance, one study found that alcohol was the most frequently depicted item in prime-time programs, comprising 20 percent of all food and beverage portrayals.
Television has also seen its fair share of alcoholics, one of the first being Otis from The Andy Griffith Show, which aired from 1960-1968. More recently, characters such as Barney (The Simpsons), Bender (Futurama), Frank Gallagher (Shameless), Karen Walker (Will & Grace), Charlie (Two and a Half Men), and pretty much the whole cast of Mad Men and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia would likely all be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.
TV shows tend to accurately portray encounters with alcohol, including drunkenness and addiction…for the most part. Although often exaggerated, especially in the sitcom genre, several shows totally missed the mark when portraying alcohol use.
Now, we understand that sitcoms are purposely misrepresenting aspects of alcohol use for the sake of humor or satire, but you can’t help but wonder if this has an influence on viewers, especially of younger ages.
Regardless, here are 5 TV shows that got alcohol use completely wrong:
1. How I Met Your Mother:
In the How I Met Your Mother episode called, “The Perfect Cocktail,” Robin and Lily discuss the perfect combination of cocktails that will force Marshall and Barney to make up after an argument. They go back and forth between red wine, gin, martinis, absinthe, daiquiris, and peppermint Schnapps, but decide against them all claiming each option has a very specific effect on someone in their group. For example, absinthe made Robin hallucinate, gin made Marshall aggressive, Barney reaches “a point of sad clarity” when he drinks red wine, and Lily wants to kiss Robin every time she drinks martinis.
Although these flashbacks are intended to be humorous, this is a very common misconception about alcohol. Contrary to popular belief, the type of alcohol you consume does not dictate what type of drunk you are. While there are several factors explaining these various mood swings, it all comes down to what level your BAC (blood-alcohol concentration) is at and how fast you get there. Barney sipping red wine is going to experience a totally different mood swing than Lily throwing back martinis. Oh, and also, absinthe is not a hallucinogen.
2. Will & Grace:
This American sitcom is widely known for being the first program to have an openly gay male character as the lead on primetime television, in addition to delivering endless brilliant one-liners. Among these one-liners though are many jokes that can be viewed as offensive and inaccurate, especially pertaining to addiction.
The main source of these jokes is Karen Walker, who has an overall disregard for the consequences of alcohol and apparently thinks inserting the pet name, “Honey,” will sugarcoat any insult. Karen Walker is an affluent socialite who has very few morals and a loose grip on reality.
She, and the rest of the cast, can be quoted for saying things like…
“Light beer? What’s next, non-addictive painkillers?” or “I started drinking to prevent thoughts of suicide.”
…and even, “AA goes against everything that I believe to be good and pure in this world.”
Although Karen Walker is a fan favorite and many viewers refer to her as their “spirit animal,” her attitude towards alcoholism and addiction is far from admirable.
Over 2,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. According to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, approximately 17.6 million people struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence. Alcohol Use Disorder is defined by the NIH as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.” What we’re trying to say is, alcoholism is not a laughing matter. Sure, comic relief is appreciated…but to a certain extent, right?
Whether viewers found the jokes about alcoholism funny or not probably depends on their own personal experiences. Will & Grace ran from 1998 through 2006 and ranked as the highest-rated sitcom in America among viewers aged 18-49 from 2001 to 2005, according to HuffPost. Clearly, the show was a success because many viewers understood that it was supposed to be comical, and often times it was. However, it raises the question, “How many people in Will & Grace’s massive viewership were influenced by this lighthearted take on substance abuse?”
3. Family Guy:
Family Guy is another sitcom designed to satirize American culture. The show has won many awards since its debut in 1999 and recently celebrated its 300th episode in October 2017. In addition to its success, Family Guy has also received a great deal of criticism over the years, and even several lawsuits. One of the controversial topics often discussed involves the protagonist, Peter Griffin and his alcohol abuse.
In a scene from Family Guy’s 13th episode of the 12th season, Peter asks Brian to toss him a cold one. Lois voices her concern about him drinking too much when he is supposed to be driving them all home.
Peter goes on to say, “Lois, I know how many beers I can drink and still be able to drive.” The scene cuts to a flashback when Peter drove home drunk. He was swerving, almost hit a pedestrian, and barely avoided a head-on collision, but miraculously made it home. Stewie and Lois; however, did not make the ride home unscathed.
Although this scene portrayed that driving drunk has consequences, the fact that Stewie and Lois survived the experience is inaccurate, to say the least. Again, we understand the concept of a sitcom, but it is important to educate yourself. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 people die every day in the United States in a motor vehicle crash that involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
It is also important to note that there are many scenes in Family Guy that are blatantly facetious, but there are also plenty where the facts are slightly blurred by the comedy. For instance, the idea of “knowing your limit” is tricky. Your limit may be four beers, but you also have to take other factors into consideration, like how fast you consume them and how recently you ate a meal.
4. 13 Reasons Why:
Another more recent example of a show that briefly misrepresented alcohol use was the Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why. This mystery teen drama, which was released in March 2017, received largely positive reviews due to its accurate depiction of many important mental health issues.
Despite all of the things the producers got right, there is one particular scene with some misinformation pertaining to alcohol use. Clay’s dad (Mr. Jensen) brings him a drink with “hot sauce, horseradish, kale, a raw egg, and about six other things designed to cure a hangover.”
While this was a thoughtful gesture that most likely earned him some cool points, the concept of a hangover cure is a myth. People have been coming up with their own versions of a hangover cure ever since humanity started drinking alcohol.
Drink water and electrolytes, they say. Sleep it off, they say. Sweat it out, they say. Just keep drinking the next morning, they say.
Newsflash: no remedy has ever been proven to completely prevent or cure a hangover. This is mainly because the whole concept is not fully understood to begin with. If you overdid it, you are going to feel unpleasant symptoms the next morning or maybe even sooner. Even if you take ibuprofen, the symptoms might lessen, but you will probably still feel tired, dehydrated or nauseas (or all of the above).
5. The Andy Griffith Show:
The Andy Griffith Show was an American sitcom classic airing from 1960-1968. The show had such a high approval from its audience that it never ranked below 7th in the Nielsen ratings and it even ended its final season in first place. Yet, there was one particular aspect of the show that had obvious and intentional inaccuracies.
Otis Campbell, Mayberry, North Carolina’s town drunk, was known for his frequent visits to the county jail due to his alcoholism. From countless ridiculous sobriety tests, to Deputy Barney Fife interrogating him while he was passed out drunk in the jail cell, the producers did not shy away from the absurd when it came to scenes with Otis. They did; however, end his appearances in episodes toward the end of the series due to concerns over the portrayal of his excessive drinking.
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As a parent, it is very important to be aware of what TV shows and movies your children are watching. Even if the show is a sitcom that is intended for humor, make sure they understand this concept.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, do not hesitate to call the Drug Treatment Center Finder 24-hour helpline at (855) 619-8070. One of our addiction specialists will help answer any questions about alcohol treatment you may have. Discuss treatment options, how to afford alcohol addiction treatment, and aftercare steps to take. Start your recovery today.