After seven seasons as a big fan, I’m going to miss the CBS detective procedural “Elementary,” which aired its series finale Thursday.
I’ll miss watching Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, using their intelligence and instincts to solve challenging crimes.
But I’ll also miss another particular aspect of Sherlock’s fictional story: The window into the life of drug and alcohol addicts that the show often provided.
In “Elementary,” former surgeon Watson was initially hired as Holmes’ “sober companion,” to help him through his struggles with heroin addiction.
Twelve-step-program meetings and relationships with his sponsors have been crucial parts of Holmes’ storyline.
Just when we thought Holmes’ support system had gotten him safely past his drug-filled days, for example, he spontaneously fell off the wagon a couple of seasons ago, and spent time in rehab.
It’s interesting to see TV shows that deal with the reality of addiction this way; even seemingly successful recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have to work hard to stay clean and sober one day at a time.
Having had people in my life who have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction — some of whom have been sober for decades, others who struggle daily and still others who ultimately lost the battle — I’ve long been interested in the stories Hollywood tells about addiction.
Part of art’s vast mission is to help us understand those whose life experiences are different from our own. For me, watching well-written films and TV shows in which characters deal with addiction aids in my own understanding of the personal battles real people fight every day.
Before that understanding happens, however, these dramas often affect me, and get under my skin.
Is there anything more heartbreaking than watching Jack Lemmon (later a recovering alcoholic himself) and Lee Remick’s characters fiercely fight the white-knuckle battle against the alcoholism that’s destroying their family and his career in 1962’s “The Days of Wine and Roses?”
Or the 1989 Emmy Award-winning performance of James Woods as real-life businessman Bill Wilson in “My Name is Bill W?”
Wilson strove to keep his family and career together while combating the disease of alcoholism, finally finding mutual support — and founding Alcoholics Anonymous — with Dr. Bob Smith (James Garner).
With the opioid crisis gripping America, and drinking reportedly on the rise among demographic groups including women and older people, real and fictional stories will continue to be told, and continue to be interesting to those who seek understanding.
Recent episodes of the popular New York public radio podcasts “Death, Sex & Money” and “1A” have encouraged people to call or write in with personal stories about how they use alcohol — even wine at a book club or a beer to unwind at the end of the work day — and how they may be reconsidering the role alcohol plays in their lives.
Both episodes fueled great discussions, the same way TV shows and movies can.
Sometimes, as in “Elementary,” recovery from alcohol abuse is just one engaging aspect of of an overall story.
On NBC’s former series “The West Wing,” real-life recovering alcoholic John Spencer portrayed presidential chief of staff Leo McGarry — a recovering addict.
During a well-written episode from the show’s first season, McGarry explains to a fellow staffer both his genetic predisposition to addiction — his alcoholic father had taken his own life — and his inability to take even just one drink without falling off the wagon.
Alcoholism “is very hard to understand,” McGarry says. “Almost nobody does.”
From what I’ve heard from those in my life who live with these struggles, that’s true. It’s hard for those of us who aren’t addicts to comprehend what goes on in their brains and their bodies as they fight the daily battle for sobriety.
I’ve been invited to dinner events with those who stay sober through AA, and have heard personal stories — multiple car crashes, arrests, loss of job and family — that leave Hollywood scripts in the dust.
I hope that by continuing to educate myself, and exposing myself to the fictional and real-life stories of those living that reality, I can improve my own level of perception.
And for those who still don’t accept alcoholism and drug addiction as diseases — continuing to reduce these struggles to a moral failing — I hope the stories artists tell can lead us all to greater understanding.
For there to be solutions to problems such as alcoholism and the opioid crisis, after all, there must first be understanding.
“Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.