Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tube Steak: Cheerio, House

While it's certainly true that I was a little late to the game, having not gotten sucked in until part way through its fifth season, I stuck with House until the end. Some lost interest as the last few seasons stopped appealing to them, but I was on board, willing to go wherever David Shore and Company were going to take Gregory House, James Wilson, and House's team.

House first began to sink its teeth in through repeats on USA on Fridays. Fridays were a night that I would avoid going out like the plague, and while waiting to have to go pick up TSLF from work when she was still on nights, I would watch House. At first, it was just something that I would watch while trying to kill time. As time and episodes moved on, I began to become more and more interested in the characters' backgrounds. An episode would grant me new insight, give a new wrinkle to Gregory House or one of the members of his diagnostics team, and before I knew what was happening I was watching the series from the beginning renting each disc from the local video store*.

*Remember those?

House was unpredictable. For a show whose episodic structure is as well-defined as House's that may seem like a weird thing to say. After all, the medical mystery of the week was going to hit its beats at every act break, the old song and dance would place itself out, House (95% of the time) would be talking to someone not on his team about something other than the case and would subconsciously lead himself to the solution of the case, having his eureka moment and saving the day for the patient. This is obvious. Anyone who has seen an episode could tell you how that part plays out. 

What was unpredictable was where Shore, Katie Jacobs, Bryan Singer, and Paul Attanasio were going to take the characters. Thanks in large part to House's misanthropic ways and detachment from emotion, the power that he did wield would exact itself in interesting ways. His self-destructive reactions to being hurt would take the character--and accordingly the show--in directions that always left you on edge. With a lesser lead and inferior writing, this would have made for an almost unpalatable show. Laurie himself assumed that the show was going to center around Wilson after his initial audition, largely because he couldn't imagine his character being the focus of the show.

But modeling the show loosely on Sherlock Holmes and making Gregory House a miserly bastard proved to be the recipe for the show's success. House rightfully turned Hugh Laurie into an international star. It brought  the talents of Robert Sean Leonard back to the fore, emerging from the shadows of the theatre and independent cinema to play the modern embodiment of Watson. The rest of the supporting cast was highlighted by the likes of Jesse Spence, Jennifer Morrison, Omar Epps, Peter Jacobson, Odette Annable, Kal Penn, Charlene Yi, and most importantly Olivia Wilde. Their scampering to come up with diagnoses thus possibly winning just a shred of their brilliant mentor's approval--something that rarely came--seemed to be just enough impetus to stick around. House's churlish interactions with his superiors, most notably Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), gave the show a playful yet insubordinate sexual tension that it thrived on for much of its run.

When it came down to it, though, it was Laurie's show. His impish charm, his boundless confidence, his fearless commitment to being an asshole--these were the things that made the show. He hit each note with pitch-perfection. House was the journey of a wounded, stunted genius. It had moments of brilliance. Its departures from its own prescribed formula were some of the most inventive hours that network television has had to offer. Perhaps most importantly and certainly most pertinent today, its finale--"Everybody Dies"--does the show justice. It gets to the core of the show. Gregory House is on the precipice, faced with the prospect of going on without Wilson and concurrently with the choice between continuing to act in only his self-interest or to put someone before his need to solve puzzles. It plays with perspective, as its best hours always have. With the bulk of the episode's action happening within his subconscious, House is visited by ghosts (their dead-ness either literal or figurative as pertains to House) from his past as he pieces together the nuggets of pertinent information from his last case while staring down the prospect of death. It honors the tradition it built while allowing for closure and its characters to forth into the great wide open.

I, for one, will miss House. Au revoir, old, self-involved, prickish friend.

1 comment:

gman said...

I do agree that the “ghost” aspect stayed tried and true with the normal apparition he was accustomed to, but the end, was not predictable. I preferred to think he would “eventually” come around and stop being a victim, which we saw a glimpse of what that would look like. I started around the third season, and fell away this year and part of last because I chose my family over TV for the weekday evenings. I still missed TV though, so That’s why I was thrilled when I realized that I have the opportunity to watch a whole show before I go to work in the morning, at Dish. I can automatically skip 20 minutes of commercials with Auto Hop on my PrimeTime Anytime recordings.

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