This is the third part of a series on how pharmacy professionals have been depicted on TV, both in a positive and negative manner.
This article is the third part of a series on memorable pharmacists in television history. For part 2, click here.
Pharmacists are generally considered some of the most trusted and highly regarded professionals. In a 2016 Gallup poll, pharmacists were ranked the No. 2 most trusted professionals by American respondents, just below nurses, with 67% rating the honesty and ethical standards of pharmacists “high” or “very high."
Despite this, pharmacists are often portrayed in movies and television in a negative light. In 2015, researchers conducted a study to determine whether pharmacist characters were depicted in a positive, negative, or neutral manner in films and TV shows available in the United States between 1970 and 2013. Their data found that of the 231 pharmacist portrayals identified, 145 (63%) were negative, 56 (24%) were neutral, and 30 (13%) were positive. Additionally, very few pharmacist characters were recurring ones on TV.
Here is a look at six more of the most memorable TV characters who are pharmacists:
13. Pharmacists on South Park
A group of pharmacists make a handful of appearances in this animated series. A male pharmacist, who works at South Park Pharmacy, first appears in season 4, episode 3. The episode features a mentally and physically disabled child named Timmy, who is prescribed Ritalin for attention deficit disorder (ADD) while his doctor and teachers ignore his obvious handicaps.
After being diagnosed, Timmy is excused from all homework, which causes his entire class to also claim to have ADD so that they can get Ritalin from the clinic and not have any homework. The medication starts to dull and calm the children and causes one of the main characters, Cartman, to develop an adverse effect that causes him to see pink Christina Aguilera monsters. Although the adults are initially uncomfortable with the situation, they soon accept the circumstances when they also start taking Ritalin.
The same male pharmacist makes an appearance 2 episodes later when Kenny tricks him into selling emergency contraceptive pills by posing as a girl and having an obviously fake handwritten parental note allowing the sale. In season 8, episode 11, an older pharmacist is arrested for illegally supply kids with cough syrup and giving them advice on which products have the most potential for abuse.
14. Caylee on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
This sitcom that premiered in 2005 and is still on the air. The series revolves around a group of 5 self-centered friends who run an Irish bar in Philadelphia.
In the season 5, episode 10, Dennis, a main character, explains to the gang that he has a new foolproof system for seducing women and earning their life-long love. He calls this “The D.E.N.N.I.S System” and explains how he used this technique on a pharmacist named Caylee.
He starts by using a forged prescription for his grandmother to get her interest. Next, Dennis offers to take Caylee on a date to a restaurant he knows is closed and instead convinces her to come over to his apartment for a night of romance. He follows this up by prank-calling her, pretending to be an angry neighbor and threatening to hurt her so that she starts to need and rely on him for safety. Dennis then starts to pull back in the relationship and ultimately breaks up with her, explaining that he can now get her back at any time with long-term success.
Dee, the only female in the group, is appalled by his system, while the other guys are amazed by its success and long-term potential. She bets Dennis that he cannot win Caylee back, which he accepts as a challenge. He faces an obstacle, however, when she discovers that the prescriptions for his grandmother were forged. As Dennis leaves the pharmacy, he runs into Frank and Mac, who are trying to use their own system to seduce Caylee. Dennis tries to show that his system works, but it instead fails miserably. Overall, this is a funny episode from a great series.
15. Jim Halliwell on Law & Order: Criminal Intent
In season 2, episode 6, of this long-running series, Detectives Eames and Goren work to discover a case of drug tampering.
The investigation begins after 2 men are killed transporting a van filled with prescription medications. Initially, Eames and Goren focus on forged medication orders for 4 boxes of somatropin that were stolen, with a value of more than $500,000. The detectives soon discover that a pharmacist named Jim Halliwell was diluting cancer medications for 4 years and then selling them for a profit. Further investigation shows that at least 14 patients of his pharmacy died prematurely from the diluted medication within the previous 6 months, despite them originally having a relatively optimistic prognosis. Halliwell was allegedly using the money to fulfill a $1.5 million commitment that he made to donate to a local church to become an elder.
Throughout the episode, Eames and Goren work to convict Halliwell, though it becomes more difficult when they discover that a deceased patient had unusually high levels of doxorubicin and ifosfamide in her system. Upon talking to the dead woman's husband, they learn that he helped his wife kill herself because she had advanced cancer, an act which is illegal in New York.
I do not want to spoil the rest of the episode, but I recommend it, even for those who do not follow the Law & Order series. Although the episode is fictional, there have been several notable cases within the past 10 to 15 years of pharmacists being convicted for diluting cancer drugs for profit.
16. Walter White on an Esurance commercial
This might be a bit of a stretch to include on this list, but it is too funny to leave off the list. In 2015, the auto insurance company Esurance released a commercial during the Super Bowl featuring Bryan Cranston as Walter White. For those who have not seen the series, White was the main character on Breaking Bad, arguably one of the best series in recent memory. On that show, White was a former chemist and chemistry teacher who starts manufacturing and dealing methamphetamine, after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
In the commercial, a woman approaches a pharmacy counter looking to pick up a prescription that her doctor called in. White pops up from behind the counter with a quizzical look and tells the woman that though he is not her regular pharmacist Greg, he is “sort of Greg.” He then proceeds to give the woman an unlabeled bottle of medication, saying it is “sort of your prescription,” which she hesitantly takes.
Walter White: "I’m sort of Greg. We’re both over 50 years old, we both used to own a Pontiac Aztek. We both have a lot of experience with drugs ... sorry, pharmaceuticals. So, say my name.”
17. Pharmacist on Bates Motel
This award-winning psychological horror drama aired from 2013 to 2017. It was a prequel to and remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho, depicting the life of Norman Bates and his mother Norma.
Throughout the series, Norman’s mental illness starts to take over and derail his life. In season 4, he is admitted to a psychiatric unit where he is treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy by Dr. Edwards. Initially, Norman shows some improvement. However, he eventually discharges himself against his doctor’s wishes. Norman’s mental status subsequently continues to deteriorate.
Later in season 5 episode 7, Norman’s brother, Dylan, visits the local pharmacy to see if he can get a refill of his brother’s medication, knowing that Norman is mentally ill and likely stopped taking all his medications. The pharmacist explains that the prescription on file expired, and she was unable to get a refill from Dr. Edwards, because he had gone missing more than a year earlier and was presumed dead (leading the viewer to assume that Norman killed him).
Dylan tells the pharmacist that he is worried that if his brother does not get his medication something bad will happen. The pharmacist reluctantly gives him a few pills. In an emotional dinner scene, Dylan tells Norman that he has his medication and needs him to take it. But Norman’s alternate personality takes over, and things escalate.
It seems unlikely that any retail pharmacist would have entertained the notion of an emergency supply for a patient who probably only filled a psychiatric medication 1 to 2 times more than a year earlier, especially from a doctor who is presumed dead. However, given the dire and extenuating circumstances, perhaps the pharmacist’s actions were not completely outside the realm of possibility.
18. Pharmacist on Prison Break
Season 2 of this series involves a massive manhunt for 8 escaped prisoners. During episode 12, one of the prisoners, nicknamed C-Note, is shown living on the run with his wife, Kacee, and young daughter, Deedee. Everything appears to be going relatively well for the family, until they discover that they have lost their daughter’s bag, which contained her prescription dexamethasone.
They quickly drive to a nearby pharmacy, and Kacee goes in to get a new bottle of dexamethasone, using a spare hard copy prescription that she has with her. The pharmacist asks if she has insurance. Kacee says that she does not and asks to pay cash. The pharmacist is sympathetic because of the high cost of the medication, until she notices a nearby newspaper with a fugitive listing for C-Note and his wife on the front cover.
The pharmacist stalls and secretly calls the police, who show up just as Kacee is leaving the pharmacy with the medication. She is arrested but not before discretely dropping her daughter’s prescription bag in a trash can for C-Note to retrieve after the police leave.
This seems to be one of the few very positive instances of a pharmacist portrayal in television, though the show manages to make viewers sympathize for C-Note and his family, despite being escaped convicts.
What TV pharmacists are missing from the list? Tweet them to me at @toshea125.
1. Yanicak A, Mohorn PL, Monterroyo P, Furgiuele G, Waddington L, Bookstaver PB. Public perception of pharmacists: film and television portrayals from 1970 to 2013. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2015;55(6):578-86. doi: 10.1331/JAPhA.2015.15028.
2. The Internet Movie Database. imdb.com. Accessed December 26, 2017.