You rarely hear of anyone being committed to an insane asylum anymore. Perhaps that is mostly due to the fact that they aren’t not called insane asylums anymore. Or booby hatches. Or nuthouses. Hospitals for the mentally ill still exist, of course, but for the most part not as they once did nor as they still do when portrayed on TV. The history of TV characters spending time in an insane asylum cuts across all genres and time periods.
References to insane asylums on shows during TV’s early period of establishing itself more often than not translated into just one single all-encompassing plot device. The escaped mental patient hellbent on engaging in some murderousness. An escapee from an insane asylum in Nevada is headed toward Virginia City with a serious case of something termed “echo psychosis.” Apparently that was a diagnosis at the time for the curious mental disturbance wrapped around the enigma of wanting to re-enact a previous event. In this case, the insane asylum was the only thing keeping the inmate from re-enacting a horrific murder committed by his grandfather a century earlier that involved throwing a woman down a mine shaft. As luck would have it, that victim’s granddaughter happens to be an actress performing in Virginia City.
Starsky and Hutch
It was just a few years before the episode of “Starsky and Hutch” titled “Murder Ward” aired that some very high profile documentary exposes of the state of insane asylums across America started a push toward official investigations and calls for reform. Starsky goes undercover as a mental patient and Hutch is working the undercover angel as a male nurse as they investigate what’s going on behind the unusually high number of fatalities associated with a mental health institution. “Starsky and Hutch” really touches a nerve on the state of mental health provided not just to the seriously disturbed but to those who would today pretty much just be prescribed the latest pharmaceutical happy pill when the investigation turns toward experiments in behavior modification taking place inside the insane asylum.
Speaking of behavior modification, such delusions of grandeur will apparently still exist among certain experts in the field of mental health even in America’s distant future. At least according to “Logan’s Run” which also indicates that insane asylums will never disappear completely. The very act of running signifies the kind of rebellion against conformity and authority all too often diagnosed as mental disturbance throughout history. And, aside from murder, what’s the best way to deal with those who refuse to accept the standards and conventions required by society? Reprogram the rebellious personality to become more docile and accepting of the societal expectations placed upon them. Whether done with lobotomies or conducted by the doctor in charge of the insane asylum in “Logan’s Run” the goal is always the same.
All Souls Hospital appears to be haunted. Quite haunted. Spirits both good and evil could potentially lurk around every corner. And the Chairman of the Board of All Souls Hospital certainly does seem to get awfully cozy with the darker elements of those haunting the place. There could only be two possible explanations for why All Souls Hospitals seems overrun with spectral visitors and creepy goings-on. Either the hospital was built on an Indian Burial Ground or the building was once an insane asylum. Take a guess.
The New Bedlam Rest Home for the Emotionally Interesting is one of the insane asylums featured on TV that appears to be less malevolent than usual. That may well be, but behavior modification experiments still go on there. One of those techniques involves spanking children repeatedly and for an extended period in order to get them to conform to expectations. Another technique to deal with emotionally disconnected individuals involves personal insults. It is not unknown for patients at the New Bedlam Rest Home for the Emotionally Interesting to still be put in a straitjacket and it is possible to wind up in this insane asylum for doing nothing more than wearing a pink shirt to work.
On TV, even robots can wind up in an insane asylum. For that matter, even humans can wind up being sentenced to the HAL Institute for Criminally Insane Robots if they get stuck with a lousy lawyer. Interestingly, the insane asylum for robots does not seem to be that much different from insane asylums for humans. You’ve got doctors refusing to treat patients as individuals, insane behavior modification techniques and even robot patients convinced they are Napoleon Bonaparte. But then again the insane asylum on “Futurama” has one thing that none of the other loony bins have: Roberto .