Kleptomania is officially characterized by a recurring compulsion to steal. Specifically, to steal things that are not necessary, desired for an increase in the pleasure of living or have any significant monetary value. Kleptomania is more common among females, but other psychological stimuli behind it are far less well known. In fact, whatever you know about kleptomania probably came from Hollywood rather than any major scientific study. What is known for certain is that the urge to steal for the gratification awarded by the act alone is quite popular among TV screenwriters.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Mr. Blanchard’s Secret
TV writers love the concept of kleptomania because it can be put to such effective use to create suspicion about motivation. “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret” is an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” that uses the suspicion of kleptomaniacal behavior to forward the narrative. The narrative being a kind of satirizing of the basic premise of Mr. Hitchcock’s own “Rear Window.” Here is a TV kleptomaniac that really isn’t a kleptomaniac at all, but you would certainly lose a lot by not knowing what kleptomania is.
I Love Lucy
Suspected kleptomania goes all the way back to “I Love Lucy.” At the very least. In an episode titled with the typical originality of this legendary sitcom, “The Kleptomaniac” it is Lucy who is the suspected thief. And, as you might suspect, Ricky is the accuser. Of course, Lucy Ricardo is not a kleptomaniac but this example of the TV kleptomaniac is quite useful in determining just how the medium has latched onto this mental disorder.
You want to know just how deep the plot device of the suspected kleptomaniac is in TV history? “The Flintstones” did not one, but two different episodes in which Fred suspects another character of kleptomania. The first person Fred Flintstone thought was a kleptomaniac was his best friend Barney Rubble. The second time around he thought his baby daughter Pebbles was afflicted. Of course, not many people probably caught the premiere of the episode in which Fred suspected Pebbles of being a kleptomaniac since it aired five days after the assassination of JFK.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy’s weird sister Dawn turns into a kleptomaniac. In some cases, the TV kleptomaniac steals just to inject a little bit of interest or humanity into her character. Such may well be the case with Dawn Summers’ sudden transformation into a kleptomaniac in the fifth season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” One would have hoped that Dawn’s urge to steal for no apparent reason would explode into a major plot point. If so, I don’t remember it.
One of the best episodes of a TV show dealing with kleptomania in a fairly serious manner, believe it or not, was “ALF.” When Jake Ochmonek moved in with his uncle and aunt next door, the question naturally arose as to his parental situation. Turns out Jake’s mother was a clinically diagnosed kleptomaniac. Here we have a situation in which one character suspects another of being a kleptomaniac but is not taken seriously despite the fact that the accused actually is a kleptomaniac. This episode of “ALF” is also one of the few occasions in TV history in which the difference between mere stealing and kleptomania is thoughtfully delineated for the viewer.
Marie Schrader, wife of DEA agent Hank, is not just a suspected kleptomaniac, but a bona fide dyed-in-the-wool klepper. Or, at the very least, she is a bona fide TV kleptomaniac. If Marie Schrader bears any resemblance to any actual sufferer of kleptomania, it may be coincidental. Or it may not. Further study is required. Heck, we probably know more about the science of psychic visions (or lack thereof) than we actually know about the science of kleptomania. Until we know more, what TV has to tell us about the condition may have to suffice.