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The 9 Most (and Least) Realistic TV Alcoholics


Often times, there are the not-so-realistic TV alcoholics whose characters are written into a show’s storyline for sheer entertainment value. These types are the least realistic TV alcoholics because they are usually super-hammy caricatures of the real-life alcoholic. Here are the 9 most (and least) realistic TV alcoholics

#1. Sue Ellen – The original Dallas

Sue Ellen was seen hiding her vodka bottles in designer shoe boxes at the back of palatial made-to-measure closets. Although this behavior is, in fact, a very realistic one that is common to many alcoholics in the midst of their addiction, the show’s treatment of Sue Ellen’s alcoholism is more of the unrealistic, trumped-up-for-ratings variety.

#2. Patsy Stone – Ab Fab

Patsy Stone openly swigged Stoli from the bottle, egged on by a laugh-track, purely for light-hearted entertainment value.

#3. Karen Walker – Will and Grace

The voluptuous little lady was known for her crass mouth and trademark “just-had-a-fourth-margarita” swagger.

#4. “Fun Bobby”– Friends

The hit show that centered around the usual group of friends sometimes included outsiders, including one of Monica’s exes, known as “Fun Bobby” who was only “fun” because he was a drunk. When he gives up the booze, he turns into his alter-ego: Boring Bobby. It’s obvious that this is one of the least realistic TV alcoholics as the running shtick is that Monica has to take up drinking just to be able to stand his (sober) company.

Realistic alcoholism is difficult to write and, when executed, painful to watch. Here are the most realistic TV alcoholics.

#5. Don Draper – Mad Men

Don Draper’s drinking habits beg the question: is he a chronic alcoholic? The answer is seemingly a solid ‘yes.’ I mean, the man (the character) religiously drinks four martinis at lunch and half a bottle of whisky in one sitting. But, Mr. Draper seems to experience no apparent consequences of such drinking behavior; it doesn’t seem to get in the way of ordinary life. Is this bordering on the fantastic that television writing often uses under the guise of poetic license? Perhaps he is just the epitome of the “functional alcoholic.”

#6. Leo McGarry – The West Wing

The character of Vice President McGarry is a recovering alcoholic, played by John Spencer – a real-life recovering alcoholic who brought firsthand experience to the role.

#7. Daniel Grayson – Revenge

The show involves the character of Daniel – a former party animal whose past hijinks got a little carried away. What the show’s writers seem to get right is that alcoholism doesn’t need a reason to emerge or reemerge (as in a relapse) – it’s just the nature of the disease.

What’s even more realistic about this TV alcoholic is his relationship with his mother, who uses Daniel’s past mistakes against him as a way to control and manipulate her son. These dynamics seem to depict perfectly the nature of the codependent relationship between mother and son.

#8. Amelia Shepherd – Private Practice

There’s the plagued alcoholic neurosurgeon, who attends a wedding and innocently orders a ginger ale at the bar. When she is served champagne and unwittingly drinks alcohol, this triggers a relapse. This is a heartbreaking and frustrating sequence of events that is realistic in that it is a very real fear for many recovering alcoholics.

#9. Frank Gallagher – Shameless

The Showtime series is about a large family of neglected kids in working-class urban Chicago, with its patriarch Frank Gallagher, a selfish and despicable raging alcoholic who drinks away the rent money, the grocery budget, and even the money for his son’s field trip. He is often found in gutters and alleyways and shows no real consideration for the people who continue to house him and care for him. This is a pretty realistic TV alcoholic but there perhaps a little too much acceptance and forgiving that come from the family members who, in real life, would be way more exasperated and fed up. Perhaps they are the ultimate example of codependency.

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