Based on the advanced publicity surrounding The Me You Can’t See, Apple TV+’s new mental-health documentary series starring and co-created by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a sequel. Released just 10 weeks after Winfrey’s sit-down with the world’s most famous ex-royals sent the British press into convulsions, it has been teased as its similarly arresting if less Meghan Markle-filled successor.
In snatches, The Me You Can’t See is a further exorcism of Harry’s upbringing, successfully reinforcing the banal cruelties and dark nonsense of the royal family. As an exploration of trauma and mental health, however – and one that features testimonials from figures such as Lady Gaga and Glenn Close – it’s frustratingly unambitious.
The unusually formatted series is anchored by scenes of Winfrey and Harry sitting together in what looks like Dr Melfi’s office on The Sopranos. They discuss the universality of pain and trauma, and the importance of open dialogue about it. The show then intermittently breaks off into vignettes of around 15 or 20 minutes each, some of which follow participants in their day-to-day lives as they discuss their experiences, while others (such as a brave and candid Gaga, who discusses her rape by a record producer) take the form of direct-to-camera monologues. Only Harry is given the full Winfrey-interview treatment, where he answers questions about his four years in therapy, and the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death.
Harry’s honesty about losing his mother is powerful. He articulates the often unspoken oddness of the stiff-upper-lip reserve he was asked to employ as a 13-year-old boy, versus the hysterical mourning of the British public. “It was like I was … showing one tenth of the emotion that everybody else was showing,” he remembers. “I was just – this is my mum, you never even met her.” He briefly talks about his drug and alcohol use and, sweetly, the slow realisation of the parallels between him and Diana. “I’ve got a hell of a lot of my mum in me,” he says. “I feel as though I’m outside of the system, but I’m still stuck there. The only way to free yourself and break out is to tell the truth.”
There are many stories equally as compelling here, if far less likely to create tabloid noise. Where everything falters, though, is in the show’s limited scope. The Me You Can’t See is undeniably well-intentioned, but it doesn’t push the conversation about mental health any further than it feels the need to. Winfrey’s ethos is rooted in a “pull oneself up by the bootstraps” lesson of self-sufficiency, where merely talking about pain and trauma is the be-all and end-all. The economic causes of mental illness, and the chronic underfunding and scarcity of mental health support, are never mentioned.
That almost everybody in the three episodes supplied to critics is in some way extraordinary – from reality show winners to basketball players to a man who appears to be non-famous but is then revealed to be Robin Williams’s son – doesn’t help. Everyone in The Me You Can’t See speaks highly of therapy and psychoanalysis. We even see Harry, in episode three, take part in an eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy session with a trained professional. But it’s only Gaga who gestures towards the money and privilege required to actually get support of that quality.
No television show is required to reflect absolutely everything all at once. But when it’s a show that claims to reflect a universal truth about pain and struggle, yet is dominated by those with unlimited access to counselling, medical professionals and sheer time to heal, it feels half-baked. The Me You Can’t See is full of people talking, but rarely about the things we desperately need to be talking about.
The Me You Can’t See is streaming on Apple TV+ now.
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