Following Friday’s development news of a Will Forte drama that centers on a grief-stricken man planning his own suicide, one mental health organization is criticizing the concept as “wildly irresponsible and callous.”
The show, “Expiration Date,” is described as a “dark suburban soap” in which a man finds a life insurance policy that covers suicide, so long as the individual does not carry out the act within 12 months, and sets about planning out his final year. The show is currently in development at Peacock.
“What a wildly irresponsible and callous concept that will, no doubt, endanger countless viewers,” said Bill Smith, founder of Inseparable, in a statement. “Glamorizing suicide leads to contagion, that is a fact. At a time when our country is already suffering a mental health crisis compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left Americans’ mental wellbeing at a two-decade low, the last thing we need is a reckless show hinged on the question of ‘will he or won’t he’ succumb to the devastation of depression — an all too real and painful experience for millions of Americans.”
Though plotline specifics are not yet available, Smith said that “NBCUniversal would do well to rethink such a dangerous idea that could lead to an increase in suicide among viewers.”
Inseparable’s advisory board members include Zak Williams, son of the late Robin Williams, as well as John Hopkins Center for Public Health Advocacy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health director Shelley Hearne, former U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, ViacomCBS senior VP of social impact Brianna Cayo Cotter, and other mental health advocates.
“Expiration Date” is being produced by NBCUniversal’s Universal Television, “Fleabag” executive producers Harry and Jack Williams, and Forte. NBCU declined to comment.
A source with knowledge of the show told Variety that the creative team understands the sensitive nature of the subject matter and will be working closely with consultants in the mental health space through the development and production process.
As the show is still in the development stage and has not been picked up to series, it is unclear what the series’ tone and content will be. Inseparable’s Smith, whose brother died by suicide, told Variety that the very premise and publicity around the development news “took my breath away.”
“It almost doesn’t matter what’s in the script,” he said. “People are already seeing that there’s going to be an entire series about a person who [believes] whether or not they’re going to decide to die by suicide is the only way out, and the damage that that is going to cause is already happening.”
He hopes the studio will reconsider greenlighting the series and “be thoughtful and educate themselves” about the influence storytellers have in conveying stories on such topics.
“Expiration Date” is not the only series to be criticized for centering suicide. After the 2017 premiere of controversial Netflix series “13 Reason Why,” two separate studies noted a rise in the number of online searches about suicide and a suicide spike among teenage boys, though the studies did not claim a causal relationship with the show. Two years after the show debuted, Netflix edited out a controversial suicide scene in which a main character takes her own life.
Smith called “13 Reasons Why” a “great example of what not to do,” and asked the “Expiration Date” producers to “do the opposite.” He lauded NBC’s “This Is Us” and VH1’s “Black Ink Crew” for the shows’ handling of such mental health issues in their storylines. He also praised Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah, and said her “raw candor about her own mental health struggles will go a long, long way in helping countless people better understand the complexity of depression.”
“There are absolutely the right ways to do this,” he said. “And there is a way to talk about things that that can be preventative.”