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NY TIMES Review: Minds Eclipsed by Peculiar Disorder

THE NEW YORK TIMES– More restraint in the presentation would have been nice, but there’s no denying that the cases detailed in “Broken Minds,” a new series on Discovery Fit & Health, are unsettling reminders of how precarious our mental health can be.

The series, which begins Wednesday night with two episodes, examines odd but authentic cases of brain disorders. Many of these disorders aren’t commonplace, so when they’re introduced you’ll probably spend a disquieting chunk of time imagining what it would be like to live under such circumstances.

A man is obsessed with cutting off his perfectly good left leg. A woman wakes from a nap assuming she is 39 with a young daughter — but soon learns her daughter is an adult, she is 62, and the husband she was expecting has been replaced by a stranger.

The show adopts a sci-fi attitude right from the start, with an introduction delivered in the same cadence and tone as the opening of the old “Twilight Zone” series. (“The human brain,” it begins. “The most mysterious place in the universe.”) And the cases are surrounded with the sort of alarmist voice-over that turns up in shows that have “Bigfoot” or “U.F.O.” in their titles.

But eventually, serious medical professionals turn up to talk about real cases, and the show gains credibility. Paul Broks, an Oxford-trained clinical psychologist, talks about that woman who took the memory-erasing nap, a sort of amnesia that cost her 23 years of recollections. She wakes up expecting to see her first husband while failing to recognize the fellow at her side, her second husband.

“We can lose vision and we’re still the person we think we are,” Dr. Broks says. “We can lose hearing and we’re still the person we think we are. But there are certain aspects of mental life that if we lose, then the self is really challenged.”

Maybe the series can’t be blamed for going into excess to sell its stories. The conditions diagnosed in these patients sometimes have names worthy of science fiction, like alien hand syndrome (a man’s hand has a mind of its own) or Alice in Wonderland syndrome (a woman’s visual perception is altered so that she feels as if she’s in a carnival fun house). As it turns out, in most of these cases there is no simple cure, affirming that cheesy introduction: The brain really is the most mysterious place in the universe.

Broken Minds

Discovery Fit & Health, Wednesdays at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Produced by Mike Mathis Productions for Discovery Fit & Health. Mike Mathis and Brian Puterman, executive producers; Tammy Wood, co-executive producer; Travis Fields, supervising producer; hosted by Dr. Reef Karim. For Discovery Fit & Health: Rita Mullin, executive producer; Tracy Rudolph and Kristen Teraila, executives in charge of production.

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