When I first saw Doctor Phil
, I thought it was refreshing. After trash like Jerry Springer
dumbed down discourse and oversimplified people's problems and turned them into a public freakshow, here was a show that addressed real issues with sensitivity and intelligence. Doctor Phil
, in its early years, was a class act. In its early years at least.
The show featured people who had problems ranging from things we can relate to - arguing within families, bullying, self-esteem issues - to problems that are more "extreme" or unusual - execssive hoarding, extremely lax or libertine parenting (one man tried to make his 4 year old son a Bad Ass
by feeding him off the edge of a knife and letting him sit on the roof of the house!), and more. The issues were generally treated as normal things that can go wrong, and while the Doctor himself did snark often ("Did somebody write 'stupid' on my forehead?", "What are you thinking??"), he did drill down to the root of the issue, point out what might cause it, and offer help. The help was a mixture of practical advice that viewers could possibly use in the real world, and professional help in the form of treatment by psychologists and screeners who, of course, we don't see.
However, over the time the show began to slide. It began to feature more and more "extreme" problems. Phil himself became more abrasive. And what's more, which I especially noticed, he didn't seem to give advice as often. There was far less "advice you could use" and far more "we'll help you" and "we'll provide the resources to get you what you need." This is good for the families, of course, but it doesn't help viewers who might suffer from the same issues. It had become obvious to me that the show was more about showmanship than education.
But I should have detected the slide earlier. The "Dr Phil House", for instance, had people who basically hated each other's guts forced to live together and learn to accept each other. Granted, people were genuinely helped by the experience, but it felt disturbingly voyeuristic and Springer
-esque. The gradual decrease of genuine advice and insight, and increase of focus on the problems people have, was occurring before I noticed it.
It's such a shame. This used to be a classy, refreshing show. Now it feels like a PG 13
-rated Jerry Springer