So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #082: At Home With House.

Is there a German word for when you finish a rather “heavy” show via streaming, where you just need to consume something lighter or familiar? Maybe it’s gutentelestreamafunk or something. Well. That was me not too long ago. After making my way through a rewatch of Better Call Saul from the very beginning, the most recent season (now I fear last) of Doom Patrol, and catching up on Barry? My mind was mush. It didn’t want new in spite of my long list (and yes, I have a google doc of series to catch). My noodle craved comfort food. And as strange as it would be for anyone to say it? House is like a plate of chicken tendies and fries for my cerebellum.

I wasn’t a House fan when the series began in (goes to look it up…) 2004 (so, you know, almost 20 years ago. Yikes.). It was an accidental taping of the show that kickstarted me on the series in the first place. You see, no cap kiddos, I had set out to tape the upcoming WWE Smackdown program on our local Fox affiliate. But my DVR was an idiot — and opted to tape the 4th season premiere of House instead. When I’d denoted then that I wouldn’t get to enjoy a 15 minute match between the demon Kane against Montel Vontavious Porter that would end in a disappointing disqualification… I decided to employ a bit of advice gleaned from the twitter feed of comic book stalwart Erik Larsen:

Every comic book is a jumping on point if it’s good enough.

So too, might one apply that ethos to a television show, right?

I knew nothing of House save only that it starred a British man doing his best American snarky accent, playing a mean version of Sherlock Holmes, but as a doctor. Also, I knew my wife liked the show, and she certainly has good taste. She married me! But I digress.

The fourth season of House was the one (for those who don’t remember September 28th, 2007 as well as I do) where Dr. House has lost his previous team of diagnosticians (two quit, one was fired out of spite),  and decides to lean into the then-still-fresh notion of reality TV to hire himself a new team to replace them. Now, for those waiting to call me out? The fourth season premiere of House doesn’t actually “feature” the cavalcade of cohorts House whittles down into the main cast until literally the last shot of the episode. The rest of the episode itself is fairly typical for the show’s main structure — a patient is introduced in the cold open, and throughout the course of 40ish minutes of content, House barrages said patient in test after test while weird and strange symptoms further complicate the issue. Right before all hope is lost, someone mutters something, the music abruptly shifts, and Gregory House has solved the seemingly unsolvable case.

I’ve long been a fan of medical shows. I don’t know why exactly. While my grandfather was a family doctor, and my uncles are a cardiologist and respiratory therapist respectfully, I’ve never had specific interest in medicine. That being said? My mom and I would watch Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman when I was a wee-lad. That begat enjoying E.R. and Chicago Hope. Again: no idea why I was necessarily drawn to any of the shows… but I suppose there’s something to be said specifically about the structure of all of them. Someone is sick. The doctor doctors. The patient often lives, and everyone is happy. And I’ll happily denote prior to finding House, I’d found Scrubs which remains my favorite show of all time*. So, it’s not like I stumbled into the misadventures of a misanthropic doctor completely blind to a good medical yarn. But again, forgive my tangent.

Thanks to basic cable, the FX network, and my untrustworthy DVR, I began House from the pilot while concurrently watching the ongoing series. What pulled me in, and has since called me home (heh), are a combination of well-placed symptoms. Chief among them? Hugh Laurie. His performance as Dr. Greggory House is a magnificent mélange of martyrdom, enmity, and a dichotomous understanding of the Hippocratic Oath. 

House does no harm by way of seemingly doing the absolute most harm possible. As a permanently-in-pain drug-abusing malcontent, Dr. House zigs where literally every other TV doctor has zagged. He’s bitter. A bully. A misogynist in words, but a feminist in action. An absolute genius and prodigy, who knows it… and has no problem rubbing it in the world’s collective face. Laurie chews the scenery, but brings with it the pathos of a man who is fairly well-dimensioned. We both understand his pain, but often find ourselves pushed away by his actions. We root for him. We want to be his friend. But we recognize that it’d likely be a complete impossibility. 

Beyond the titular diagnostician, House wins my favor by way of its cleverness. While there should be no doubt the show itself is a slave to the network dramas that gave it birth (and 8 seasons, including syndication on basic cable…), in between the predictable monotony of a procedural plotline, the writers room liked to explore all manners of minutiae. House’s patients often find themselves challenging him to arguments of morality, faith, reason, and personal beliefs. Nothing says watchable to me like a doctor who keeps track of his score against God in more than one episode.

And when House went silly? It dug in with both hands. Take the Season Six opener which finds House committed to a detox ward and psychiatric hospital. Sure, the writer’s room must have relished the opportunity to lampshade One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Rather than end with Greg miraculously curing an institution of wackadoos, the show instead forces House to face his narcissism, guilt, and shame over the previous season’s drama (an on-screen death of one side character, and the suicide of another). He leaves detox ready to move on. And while it doesn’t take but a few episodes to re-reestablish the normal status quo… the show never wholly forgets where it’s been. Further down the show’s tenure we’d also be treated to House in prison, and a few other clear attempts to spike the ratings. While the show didn’t necessarily get better because of these flights of fancy, it never dipped below it’s always-watchable ways. 

House followed in the footsteps (loosely) from malcontents like Vic Mackey of The Shield, and Tony Soprano; but there never was a fear the show (or the good doctor) would ever become a villain. It recognized that so long as a life was saved, the show’s mission statement remained forever “the ends justify the means”. Who cares if House needed to perform a brain biopsy on a fully conscious unanesthetized toddler… so long as they lived! Across eight seasons, House and his teams cured dozens and dozens of impossibly sick folks — from a teenage huckster priest, to an African warlord dictator. House himself managed to make love to his boss on several occasions, find the only hooker who could play the hurdy gurdy, and still find the time to attempt to carve off parts of his thigh-meat in a pain-addled rage. He’s always remained delightfully snarky throughout. And for a curmudgeon at heart such as myself? It’s been chicken soup for my network schlocky soul.

I’ve a few seasons left of my rewatch before I’ll start back with some new(ish) stuff. Until then? You’re all idiots and liars. Time for some Vicodin.