Review 3: 4GoesMad - 'Jon Richardson: A Little Bit OCD'
'4 Goes Mad' is probably not the greatest way of advertising a week's worth of mental health programmes. It's slightly offensive, for one but even worse is the images it initially conjures up. Simon Amstell returns, cackling astride a throne held aloft by Jedward in mankinis! Jimmy Carr takes to the giant statue outside C4 HQ on a pogo stick, telling the world he's discovered a new form of banana! A baby at the helm of the command centre, pushing dials and twiddling buttons like there's no tomorrow, scattering My Great Big Embarrassing Body and Come Grand Design Every Minute across the airways! Pandemonium erupts! Riots! Screaming! The temptation to change to another channel!
Following somewhat closer examination, Channel 4's week of programmes on the subject of mental health features anything but this type of pandemonium. It is, as it happens, being tackled remarkably well.
Comedian Jon Richardson, at the wheel of a road trip across the realm of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), is probably partially to blame. Hosting, narrating and channelling A Little Bit OCD on Tuesday night, he was no stranger to the topic - at least, he was somewhat sure he isn't.
Jokingly referring to the careful attention he gives to symmetry, the positioning of objects and pavement patterns as "just the correct way of doing things" on 8 Out Of 10 Cats, he's unafraid to crack wise about his own, potentially compulsive habits. But in engaging with members of the public who have been certified as having OCD - which he hasn't - Richardson turned the roadshow into more than just an insight into the condition. It became a validation of its true nature at a time when OCD means, to many, rearranging the order of your pens.
Richardson initially familiarised himself with the layman's definition of OCD, in his careful and considered behaviour in his house to the behest of his flatmates. Spreading butter smooth and rearranging newspapers to ensure they are evenly lined up pales in comparison to 16-year-old John, who had to slide himself and his phone on seats before he can sit comfortably, and taps door frames on both sides to ease anxieties brought on by bullying at school.
What at first seemed uneasily voyeuristic soon became saddening, as John disclosed how much he was aware of his compulsions inside his head but, on the outside, was powerless to stop them lest he feel more endangered by the world around him. Feeling compelled is one thing - but the frustration that comes with that compulsion was news to Richardson and, by extension, to those watching with a similar uninformed curiosity.
A Little Bit OCD is remarkable in the way that everything adds up in a charming, thoughtful way, at odds with its advertising slogan. Richardson was careful and considerate with everyone he meets, not least 35-year-old Jemma, who spent the morning before her appearance composing a list of what to clean - and then had no time to clean because the list had to be rewritten to perfection. She apologised and meant no offence when requesting that Richardson talk with her on her balcony, rather than inside the house itself, lest he contaminate it. That he was as understatedly compassionate as he was is a real boon to the programme, if only because his own uncertainly surrounding the condition was acting as a driving force.
Some moments proved harder than others. Contaminant-obsessed Joyce quietly cleaned her shopping and maintained a dirt-free half of her house in Cornwall, postulating the idea that OCD was passed from her father to her and from her to her son. Sensitively revealing her son had committed suicide after his compulsions rendered him unable to sleep was a real reminder that the condition is a disorder, a condition outside the boundaries of control. But the sight of Richardson touching a toilet seat, then rubbing his hands up and down his suit and through his hair to face his fear of contaminants probably raised the eyebrows of more than a few people. "Tell me I'm not going to die," he said outside afterwards, calmly, but tellingly uneasy.
That Richardson was later diagnosed as not having OCD served as perhaps one of the most educational lessons of the night - that everybody will, at some point, carry out actions which appear obsessive-compulsive, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are - more often than not, these actions are just habits of logic. Declaring himself to have "obsessive compulsive order", he explained that his life is not controlled by what he does to keep happy - he does these things out of choice, because he can. His life is free of the disruption and anxiety that comes with OCD, and his reflections thereafter that others could hopefully regress to his level and recover were genuine. His meekness and quiet maturity in the face of real, mind-warping struggle were required for this programme to be a success, and the validation of OCD was made clearer than it has perhaps been before.
Unfortunately, people didn't seem to get the point. After the programme aired, Twitter was flooded with messages of rearranging crayons and making sure bottles of cleaning fluid went from biggest to smallest.
The point of how destructive the disorder can be hadn't hit home. But for every twenty tweets confusing OCD with mere pet peeves, there was a single one belonging to somebody now better informed and better equipped to deal with it in future. If there's anything mad about Tuesday's programme, it's how little people seemed to understand the subject at the end, regardless of how crystal clear the diagnosis was when the credits rolled.
If you are a parent and want more information about OCD read more here.
If you are a young person and want more information about OCD read more here.