My 6 Television Pitches to Replace Netflix's "Afflicted"
Updated: Jan 15
On August 10th, Netflix released a 7-part docu-series (if you can call it that) about 7 people suffering from mysterious and/or un-treatable chronic illnesses. As a fellow Sick Person and fan of Jennifer Brea's (infinitely better) Unrest, I started to watch it almost immediately, but stopped before all of the subjects were even introduced, finding it over-dramatic, over-simplistic, and oddly angled: the third episode, titled Identity, was themed around the idea that patients who derive their identity from their illness may not really want to be well.
Again, this was only the THIRD episode.
9 days after the release, the subjects of Afflicted released a joint article and several other personal essays about how the show had mislead, misrepresented, and mistreated them. Their stories are very detailed, heartbreaking, and ultimately unsurprising. As the actual executive producer of both Afflicted and Intervention has said, "Listen, any time you're bringing cameras in the real world and aiming at disempowered people, exploitation is gonna come up." (This quote was taken from the blog post of one of the participants, Jamison, a prolific writer whose blog should have about a million more followers).
There are plenty of people more qualified than I am who are writing about the portrayals of illness in media, the exploitation of the sick body, and the host of issues that Afflicted brings up surrounding mental illness, medical unknowns, and packaging suffering as entertainment. What interests me is the lengths that the Afflicted producers went through, in editing, recruiting, and filming, to make Afflicted a consumable reality television show instead of the documentary it claimed to be. One of the downfalls of Afflicted was its determination to make entertainment out of illness. And this is understandable, because illness is often portrayed in media as dramatic - a plot twist, a moment for growth, the beloved "medical mystery".
In reality, living with chronic illness is, above all, boring.
In my experience, the ratio of progress and/or drama relating to my illness to lying in bed watching re-runs of Say Yes To the Dress is about 2,000-to-1. Is it challenging sometimes? Yes. Would I want to have a show where people watch me watch television in some kind of Baudrillard-esque simulacra? Absolutely not.
With that said, I would like to present my elevator pitches of shows portraying people with chronic illnesses that Netflix might use to redeem themselves from the trash fire that is Afflicted.
1. "Stella" rides the subway every day to work. Stella is a young woman with severe joint pain and no outer signs of illness. We follow Stella as she is yelled at for sitting in the handicap seats even though she cannot stand for long periods of time. In a beautiful season finale, Stella tells everyone to go fuck themselves.
2. "Jenny" carries around a flask with her and takes a shot every time someone tells she would feel better if she just tried a juice cleanse. Jenny is rushed to the ER for alcohol poisoning. Season ends on a cliffhanger.
3. "Imogene" arrives in the ER with the actual alien from Alien bursting out of her abdomen. She is told by her male doctor that she should consider anti-anxiety medication.
4. Desperate for relief from his headaches, "Steve" begins a regimen of fish oil. He develops a debilitating fish oil addiction, causing him to adopt a marine-based lifestyle to accommodate his cravings. Steve continues to send voice diaries to the producers from somewhere in the Atlantic.
5. "Ethan" loses his leg in a horrific car accident. After two weeks of avoiding gluten, it grows back.
6. "Gertrude" is followed around having a completely normal life. Gertrude has an identity beyond her illness, which includes writing a blog. Gertrude's blog explodes, she gets rich and adopts 26 rescue Newfoundlands. I'm Gertrude.
These ideas are copyrighted. Please contact my agent for use.