New ABC Drama ‘Black Box’ Tackles Addiction

By Shawn Dwyer 04/22/14

Kelly Reilly plays a world-renowned neuroscientist with bipolar disorder who gets off on skipping her meds.

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Photo via ABC

On Thursday, ABC will debut a new drama, Black Box, which focuses on Catherine Black, a brilliant but troubled neuroscientist who struggles with bipolar disorder. But what makes the show unique is that Catherine is addicted to not taking her medication in order to get high on her condition and experience the world in a euphoric, but simultaneously dangerous state.

"This show is not a generic examination of bipolarity – not at all," said Kelly Reilly, who plays the title character. "This is about one woman who is an addict to her disease. The disease is treatable. But it calls for a lifetime of commitment and rearranging medications to see what works and what doesn't work – and fighting the battle of deciding whether or not you want to take them."

Series creator Amy Holden Jones has her own experiences in dealing with bipolar disorder through her father, a physician who practiced until he was 70 years old despite having the disease. "There are highly functional bipolar people. You may think your only experience of it is on 'Homeland,’” Jones said in reference to the acclaimed Showtime series, which stars Claire Danes as a bipolar CIA officer. “But that's probably not the case."

Both Jones and Reilly were quick to point out that Black Box is not a show about illness, but rather uses bipolar disorder and addiction as a metaphor, questioning what is considered normal brain activity. According to Catherine, medication dooms one to mediocrity while lapsing into a manic state is “a freakin' rocket ride.”

"This is not a life that's ever going to be straight and narrow for Catherine," said Reilly. "It's always going to be a bit wobbly: Is she gonna go off crazy again, or is she going to try to toe the line? She's a rule-breaker by nature who takes risks. But I think she longs for what normal might feel like."

The series airs on ABC this Thursday at 10 p.m. But judging from the bruising reviews, the show might not reach such euphoric highs in the ratings.
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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.