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TV Shows That Have Dealt With Tourette Syndrome

Posted Mon 14th Aug 2017 at 11:33
by David Jester


Author David Jester, gives us an insight in to his views on a selection of TV shows that have featured TS.

Several years ago, I mentioned the South Park TV show when discussing trash TV with someone I had just met. They didn’t have anything good to say about anything and one of the first things they said to me was, “I don’t own a TV”.

Even though I’m pretty sure my only words to that point had been “hello” and “what do you do for a living?”.

My point was that just because something is crude, rude and animated, doesn’t mean it’s either vulgar adult programming or mindless children’s TV. I brought up an episode in which Cartman pretended to have Tourettes and I was about to make my point, but before I could go any fur-ther, I was bombarded with shocked statements. I was told that the episode was appalling, shocking and should not have been aired. Several moments later, I was asked in a rather smug tone, “How would you like it if you had Tourettes and you saw that?”

As it happens, I do have Tourettes and I love South Park. I adored that episode for bringing more exposure to this disorder and helping me to realize I have Tourettes. This TV hating conversation tyrant responded about as politely as you would expect. Which is to say she called me a liar and then directed her directionless bile towards another unsuspecting stranger. Since then I’ve made a point of embracing any program or publication that has covered Tourettes. I’ve also done my bit to raise awareness where possible. The more the general public knows, the easier it will be for a child to accept their diagnosis. Also, there’s only so many times I can hear my words of, “I have Tourettes” being met with baffled stares and replies of “Is that why you swear so much in your books?”

The Undateables (Episode(s) “Michael, Ray Brent, Kate and Steve” and “Holiday Romance”)

It’s a tad cruel that they would feature someone with Tourettes and refer to them as “Undatea-ble”. But it’s Channel 4, the same people who brought us Embarrassing Fat Bodies, Raised by Queers, Fat Plague and Made in Chelsea (the last one is offensive in content only) so it’s to be expected.

This show follows people who are unlucky in love because of a disorder or ailment, and there is a young man, Brent, who has Tourettes. A lot of people have taken offense at this because he’s young, handsome and clearly has a kind and loving nature, yet he’s been labelled as “Undatea-ble”. But he admitted himself how hard it had been for him and considering he has some ex-treme vocal tics, it’s understandable.

What I like about this show is that (Spoiler Alert) he eventually finds a woman who loves him regardless of those tics, someone who even finds them amusing and sweet. I know people who would see this as condescending, but if you have Tourettes it’s actually a relief for those around you to have this reaction, it certainly beats the alternative. It’s also close to home for me as my partner has the same reaction.

There is a happy ending in this story and it gets happier after the show as well, so I’d recommend it for anyone with Tourettes who’s had the same struggles. 

John’s Not Mad/Boy Can’t Help It/I Swear I Can’t Help It (1989, 2002, 2009)

One of the first shows to ever shine a light on this disorder, John’s Not Mad has been ranked as one of the best documentaries ever by the British public and was first shown in 1989. It fea-tures an appearance from one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Oliver Sacks, and it offers an insight that just wasn't available when it was first released.

It follows the story of John Davidson, who was just 15 at the time of release, and it picks up this story in 2002 with The Boy Can’t Help It and then again in 2009 with Tourettes: I Swear I Can’t Help It.

It is a brilliant and touching documentary. It was actually difficult to watch for me because it showed the tics close-up and personal, which made me want to tic. Also, If you pay attention to the titles, it also shows that the BBC has dumbed down a lot over the years and is more reliant on terrible puns than ever.

Employable Me (Episode 1, Season 1, First Aired 2016)

Employable Me follows a TS sufferer, Paul Stevenson, who can’t find a job because he shouts rather unfortunate things during job interviews.

This show was played for laughs, and that’s never a good thing. But for every 1 person watching it to get a kick out of this guy’s humiliation, there is someone watching it who gains a better un-derstanding of just what Tourettes is. The show doesn’t do much to explain that there are other forms of the disorder and due to the nature of its development (brought on by the death of a friend when he was in his mid-40s), Mr. Stevenson seems to be a very unique case. But it did generate a lot of positive media and served to put the disorder in the spotlight.

If the tabloids find themselves sympathizing with sufferers and explaining the issue in full just to provide a backdrop for the show, then it’s always a positive.

South Park (Episode “Le Petit Tourette” Episode 8, Season 11, first aired in 2007)

I’ve already discussed this episode but it’s worth another mention. I actually began watching the episode being none the wiser. Several weeks earlier I had been passed over by both a psy-chologist and a neurologist who couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, namely because I had no idea how to describe it and kept referring to my tics as “spasms”.

I had tried for many years to figure it out. I had done all kinds of searches online and had skimmed over Tourettes many times because I had the same misconceptions about the illness that everyone else has. If I had actually read more about it then those walls would have come down and the truth would have dawned, but I didn’t. And not until this episode—and in particular a scene where a young sufferer described her need to tic and the strange ritual that it involved—did I realize.

They played it for comedy, there’s no doubt about that, but they were also true to the illness and did a fantastic job of raising awareness. Most TS sufferers and organizations seem to agree, although clearly the same can’t be said for the randomly offended woman I mentioned at the start of this piece.

There’s always one.


David Jester writes under several pseudonyms and has published both nonfiction and fiction, including the bestselling comedy series An Idiot in Love, dark fantasy comedy Forever After, and horror This is How You Die. He blogs about writing and freelancing at

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