House, MD

HouseMDThe Idea: Go watch House MD now. Way too good to last.

The last time I recommended a television series (Karen Sisco, and the recommendation was due to early-episode writing by creator Elmore Leonard), it was the kiss of death. I seem to have had this effect on the handful of good television series over the past decade: The Big Easy, Dave’s World, Reasonable Doubts, Max Bickford and the best of them all, Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night. What distinguished all of these series was excellent writing: You didn’t even have to watch — you could enjoy just listening to the smart, quirky dialogue, and the rich, carefully woven story-lines.

So I’m almost afraid to go to bat for the latest well-written drama (on the Faux network yet — sheesh), House MD. The show features British theatrical actor (accent undetectable) Hugh Laurie as the eponymous Dr. Gregory House MD, brilliant but bitter medical specialist, whose team must solve the medical mysteries lesser minds have given up on. Some of the medical cases are intriguing, usually with wry twists, but the real magic in the program is the dialogue, which sparkles and hasn’t an ounce of fat on it. The writing is mostly done (I think — writing credits are hard to catch in Hollywood productions) by Sara Cooper and Lawrence Kaplow, who were last seen as the writers of Hack, the short-lived and claustrophobic (but also cleverly-scripted) drama that featured David Caruso as a disgraced cop working as a cabbie.

I’ve seen quite a few well-written shows destroyed by studio and network hacks insisting on more ‘human interest’ (i.e. improbable ‘cute’ romances that are dragged out like soap opera story lines), more ‘action’ (i.e. simpler shorter dialogue and more implausible disasters with ample shouting and shooting), or more ‘conflict’ (i.e. black-hat stereotypes that conspire and do inconceivably mean things to impossibly good guys, also a soap opera staple). The Pretender actually took a soap opera actor and, thanks to good writing, made him engaging and heroic — but the hacks dumbed down the show and refocused it on the conspiracy of ‘the center’ and the absurd Snidely Whiplash-level nastiness of the antagonists. The (anti-)hero was reduced to a comic book caricature and the program became unwatchable. Same thing happened to Max Bickford, which started brilliantly but was soon forced by the studio to introduce more romance and bigger roles for the young actors on the show (i.e. shed the older-demographic skew because advertisers know older viewers buy less, and less impulsively). Richard Dreyfuss could have been excused if he had murdered the producers, who reduced a show of great promise to pathetic drivel and may have wrecked Dreyfuss’ career in the process. Maybe it’s a good thing that some of the best shows never lasted long enough to be polluted and dragged down by the pathetic media-oligopoly moneygrubbers who run the studios and networks and care only for ratings points among their most unsophisticated viewers. The consequence is the flood of cheap ‘reality’ dreck that has filled the schedules and made shows like House stand out so remarkably.

The attempt by the hacks to damage House is clearly evident (the hospital administrators are predictably corrupt and ludicrously manipulative and out to ‘get’ our hero — they force him in the latest episode to choose between firing one of his brilliant interns or shilling for a new overpriced drug; and the way-too-pretty young people on the staff are being given more close-ups and featured in vapid, simple subplots) but what is remarkable is that the show seems to have found a way to accommodate this interference without losing its edge. A particularly fine episode, Fidelity, has a convoluted, stunning plot and a merciless, horrifyingly human ending. It would make a wonderful stage play. And House’s spare and savage come-backs and asides are still original, lovingly crafted and totally believable. House is tailor-made to be the stereotypical rude and short-tempered medical specialist, yet Laurie and the writers refuse to allow him to be caricaturized — with each episode he grows deeper and more engaging and complex.

Catch it while you can. House is way too smart for its own good, especially on that network. As a real-life doctor said in his review of the show on imdb: “Somewhere there is a team of writers who actually know their craft, and an acting ensemble that knows how to pull it off. Now I can watch my TV one hour a week.” I’m with you, doctor.

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10 Responses to House, MD

  1. I watch House as well, having caught the first episode (quite by accident) and echo the praise. And because I identify with House (the doctor), I’m trying to make my personality less appealing in order to emulate him. ;)The medical talk is techno-babble to me, but my wife (who knows about such things) informs me it’s genuine, that the scenarios are plausible, and has on occasion been a step ahead of the diagnosis on the show. I like writing that doesn’t dumb it down, even if the result is that I don’t understand it.

  2. Cindy Strickland says:

    I agree. The show is great; it can’t last. And I liked Hack too. Thanks for turning me on the writers.

  3. Just wanted to clarify: “Hack” starred David Morse, not David Caruso… Caruso is a hack of a different flavor…

  4. Doug Alder says:

    I’ve been a House fan since episode one but I must confess Laurie’s character is beginning to wear a little thin with me.

  5. Maria Gabo says:

    This show is great. As someone in the health care field, the scenarios are very creative and thought-provoking. The characters despite their flaws and severe differences all really mesh together well- they are what makes the show entertaining.

  6. Mateo says:

    Show of the year!! Being in healthcare, it really makes what I do seem more exciting. The sub-plots are a little out there, but the medicince is just right!I kind of hope it doesn’t last too long, because as you said the money types will get in the way and commericialize it beyond recogntion, like what has been done with E.R. and other shows that were once good. Maybe a couple of seasons, and Laurie can leave the House on a high note.

  7. Elene Gusch says:

    LOVED House until tonight, when some extremely irresponsible and inaccurate dialogue slandered at least four medical professions– acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, and naturopathy. I thought it was just House mouthing off as usual, but then the other docs went on to comment on the damage that could be caused by all these “charlatans.” I suppose it was meant to be funny, but I’m horrified that some people might believe that being treated with acupuncture could actually cause a person to develop bacterial myocarditis! An amazing conjecture, since we use only disposable needles, all pre-sterilized at the factory, which have essentially zero chance of contamination. I sure expected better of these normally-brilliant writers. If this sort of thing were said about me as an individual practitioner, I would have called a lawyer already.

  8. jimbo says:

    Heh – that’s one of the things I love about this show: none of this fashionable “holistic” crap, just plain old fashioned empirical western medicene. I look forward to House piling on the charlatans of alternative medicene more in season 2 – maybe he could throw in some shots at Christian Scientists, just for balance…

  9. Becca says:

    Hehe I have to admit when I first watched House I was hooked emiditly and now i cant stop acting like him and my younger sister says im creeping her out so its a win win situation. lol ☺

  10. Mei1 says:

    Medical field wasn’t my cup of tea. I resented it. The fact that Medical terms are jargon to my ear, giving the longest english word a complication. I thought of dismissing HOUSE MD on my telly. Just another Grey’s Anatomy and ER, I thought. Sheesh. But my sister had a marathon of Season 1 & 2. I was compelled to watch with her. From then on, I fell in love with the show! House MD is fascinating to people who used to think that doctors were just in guessing game with the disease! Giving doctors an appeal, this time with a higher regard. Yeah, Dr. House seemed to be a callous guy. But it made him subjective to his decisions. And he’s almost always right.I like the dialogues as well, because i can relate (sometimes, i do it without realizing it, thought not to the extent of being rude) to Dr. House on his comments and answers to obvious questions and facts. I find it really funny. When the attack is so subtle, you can read between lines and emphatize with Dr. Foreman, Dr. Camerron, Dr. Chase and Dr. Cuddy. When the attack is so BOLD, I can’t help it but laugh my ass off! Dr. House is a brute. But i like him all the same.As the saying goes, nobody is perfect. That’s why Dr. House has a downfall. His addiction to drugs. Yeah, a twist that the writer has smartly come up with. Callous. Hard-headed. Unattached. What more could you ask for a lead role? He comes to work with crinkled shirt, a cane, and a 3-day old beard, a bottle of pills, sporting a bike, a jacket, and a sneakers, and with a back-pack. Yet his being heard, followed, and sought out. He is Dr. House.Yeah, i think i will consider liking medical world in real life.

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