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‘The Great North’ Finally Gave People With OCD the Episode We Deserve

Animated character Moon, a young boy, seen from above in his bed, clutching a stuffed animal, yelling

When TV shows do OCD episodes they’re almost always terrible, so when I realized The Great Northone of the best comfort shows currently airing on television—was doing one, I was braced to sit through something condescending and inaccurate at best. Instead, the animated show finally gave people with OCD the kind of episode we’ve always deserved, depicting the disorder in an accurate and empathetic way that I’ve never seen before in any kind of mainstream media.

The season 3 episode “Arranger-ous Minds Adventure” features Moon and one of his teachers (Mr. Golovkin, voiced by Paul F. Tompkins) realizing they have OCD because of how much they like to tidy and organise things, and I admit, when I saw this I really thought the writing team was going to get it wrong as so many others have before.

It’s a common trope when depicting people with OCD to have us obsessed with cleaning and tidying, and while that can happen, the writers usually don’t take the time to understand the reasons why. The thing about OCD is that it’s not just a case of being particular or liking things “just so,” or even getting anxious if they aren’t—its an anxiety disorder that forces you to obsess over particular things (often via the mechanism of violent or distressing intrusive thoughts) and perform compulsions in an attempt to alleviate that anxiety. While cleaning and organizing can form part of those compulsions, it’s never just a case of “liking being organized,” it’s because the sufferer is convinced something terrible will happen if they don’t.

Sometimes that terrible thing is something specific, and often patently absurd, even to the sufferer themselves. A great example, to use my own pre-treatment life, is the time I washed all the clothes in my house because I walked past something gross on the street on the way home and became convinced everything around me was contaminated because of it. I knew it couldn’t be true but at the same time couldn’t quite convince the anxiety demon that lived in my brain so I ended up pulling out all the drawers and running who knows how many loads in my washing machine.

Sometimes the terrible thing is less specific and more an incapacitating sense of amorphous dread. You can’t explain what it is that you’re afraid of but you know the world will end if you don’t do the thing your brain is screaming at you to do. This is the part people usually miss, and ironically often end up accidentally depicting an autistic person (a demographic more likely to have OCD than allistics) who doesn’t actually present with OCD, or someone with another unrelated condition instead.

However, the episode took a huge swerve away from the usual, terrible OCD content when, after being asked to rearrange his shed and being unable to make himself do it, Mr. Golovkin locked himself in and took a fantasy trip inside his head—where this total asshole of a clock appeared:

In an animated scene, an evil mustachioed clock dancing with a cane between Moon and Mr. Golovkin who are wearing tuxedos
This asshole (Fox)

The OCD clock, which can I just say is brilliant imagery because OCD sometimes feels like an aggravating tick-tock-tick-tock in your head that just won’t shut up, introduced himself and then immediately started spouting all the different kinds of absurd yet terrifying intrusive thoughts OCD loves to bring. A particular stand-out line for me is this one: “If you don’t line up your crap or occasionally lick a table you’ll probably get cancer from an underground cable,”

That really does just capture how ridiculous and disconnected the compulsions your OCD latches onto can be. But it got better because the clock then started explaining the difference between television OCD and real OCD, and can I just say this is the best gotcha moment I’ve ever been on the receiving end of? Because yes, evil psychological alarm clock, yes that’s exactly it, and we (OCD sufferers) are all so tired of seeing TV OCD in place of our own actual experiences.

“No that’s just TV OCD. I’m actually a disabling pattern of disturbing obsessions and repetitive behaviors that make it very hard to live a normal life.”

After seeing so many shows where OCD is confused with autism (which is especially frustrating as someone who has both), or portrayed as something that sends its sufferers into a murderous rampage when their meticulous patterns and routines are disrupted—and never mind that people with OCD are less likely to commit acts of violence than the average population—it’s just really refreshing to see an accurate depiction of the asshole who lives in my brain on the screen.

But The Great North’s streak of getting it right didn’t end there. Even though Mr. Golovkin did seem to suddenly overcome at least some of his OCD a little too quickly and easily at the end, they also talked (sang, actually) about the necessity of therapy, as well as showing the impact OCD can have on your personal relationships. These are things that are either regularly forgotten or just so horribly misrepresented in regular OCD episodes that you find yourself wishing they had been, but The Great North managed to get them in there and, again, actually get them right.

This isn’t the first time The Great North has made me feel weirdly seen for an adult animated sitcom. There’s also the theory my wife and I have that the entire family is autistic, and the open, casual, frequent way Wolf and Judy talk about their bisexuality. (Even if they’ve never said the word itself, we know what they’re saying.) The way every member of that family is allowed to be weird and messy and still met with unconditional love, support, and acceptance gets me every time. I don’t know if Moon’s OCD is going to be pursued further in other episodes or if this is going to be one of those things that gets forgotten between one episode and the next—it can go either way with Loren Bouchard’s cartoons and television in general, and it’s just a feature of the genre.

But even if it never comes up again I’m just glad we finally got to watch an episode of something where the writers bothered to do real research into OCD and put something on the screen sufferers can actually relate to.

(featured image: Fox)

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Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.