First, there was “Intervention,” A&E’s harrowing documentary series that takes an unblinking look at the lives of addicts. From naked, screaming meth heads to killing-themselves-slowly alcoholic fathers, the show is equal parts terrifying, riveting, and compelling. While the characters change — pill-popping shrink, homeless crackhead, Listerine-swilling mom — the story is always the same. Somewhere along the road of their lives, these people went reeling off course, and their addiction controls their futures, as they stagger from bar to dealer to homelessness.
Now, “Obsessed” takes a look at people who are controlled by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Whether they can’t stop washing their hands, are convinced the refrigerator will fall through the floor at any moment, or pick at their faces with what amounts to pliers, they are ruled by their OCD. Like somebody else around here, I’m inclined to go in OCD directions. Watching a show in which people reel around like anxiously-spinning tops while obsessing about their obsessions makes me anxious. I don’t want to do the things the people on this show do — take, for example, the woman whose obsessive ritual involves a toothbrush and her butt — but watching their twitchy obsessiveness makes me twitchy.
This week’s episode featured the aforementioned woman who couldn’t stop picking holes in her face. Her anxiety was growing even more acute because a woman she’d met on the internet was coming for a visit, and the woman with OCD hadn’t told her online girlfriend about her picking problem, because she had gone so far as to remove all traces of it with Photoshop. Meanwhile, the other woman whose story the show followed was obsessed with dogs being tortured. As a child, she said, she’d witnessed her father torture and abuse the family dog, and she couldn’t get over the trauma.
Both women were taken to behavior modification specialists who pushed them to expose themselves to that which they fear, the idea being that exposure to the anxiety-inducing ritual or tolerating not engaging in it will decrease its influence. The woman obsessed with dog torture was brought to an animal shelter, where she practically had a nervous breakdown. The face-picker wasn’t so lucky. Her relationship ended, and she discontinued therapy. Not everyone is interested in shedding their obsessions, it seems.
Ultimately, these obsessive-compulsives aren’t so unlike you or me. Sure, they’ve taken their obsessions to a whole new level, but we all obsess about something, whether it’s Edward Cullen or fudge brownies. People with OCD are a lot like us. And that is both creepy and comforting.
What’s next? “Hoarders” premieres on Aug. 17.