Lunchtable TV Talk: House – King of Misanthropes

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House is one of those shows with an egotistical, maniacal, damaged “genius” with special skills at the helm. It never interested me much, despite being a Hugh Laurie fan, as medical mystery procedurals don’t generally keep delivering punches after one season. They hold our interest when they are new because we like novelty – we like curmudgeonly assholes or mental cases (and I do recognize that lumping people into a superficial group like “mental cases” is insensitive and a massive and unfair generalization). There is only so much we can take of assholes, racists, addicts on TV… from Archie Bunker to Adrian Monk, from Hank Moody to almost all characters Denis Leary plays on TV. Dr Gregory House is one of the biggest of all TV jerks, and completely self-involved, self-destructive and does not care how he hurts – or how much – the people in his life. That common thread runs, to varying degrees, through all these “lovable” (or not so lovable) jerks.

I realize it is a bit late to be writing about a show like House. It’s old – it ended ages ago. I was surprised when I watched the first season to see that it was more than a decade old already. I got sucked into House recently after a long, self-imposed foreign-film festival on the homestead. I just wanted some English-language entertainment to occupy my mind only halfway. What struck me first is: how on earth do we, with our short attention spans, manage to follow or care about serialized television shows that go on for 22 or 24 episodes per season? Particularly with these kinds of shows, they run out of steam fairly quickly and become predictable (even in their lack of unpredictability). It still remained mildly entertaining, but when you’re bingeing all eight seasons at once, all 176 plus or minus, it wears out its welcome really fast. I recently read an article in which a TV critic argues that binge watching enables a show to be created expressly for the binge in mind, which means we are less likely to pick out its flaws. This applies mostly to shows created for streaming that go for a max of about 13 episodes. I agree to some extent – nothing’s perfect, whether it’s too long, too short, or skimps on process that adds to plot. These things are designed to stream and ingest all in one go. But these longer shows that get churned out season after season feel churned out. A great slog through mostly mud before occasionally hitting a few smoother streams.

Second thing that struck me, of course, as I am sensitively attuned to these things, and which is not at all a surprise: addicts possess nothing but meanness, diffuse blame and spew denial and insult whenever they can. But House is not the best portrayal of how addiction works. It occasionally illustrates (although more with unrealistic storylines and hammer-over-the-head consequences for the people House works with – his “friends”) the bad parts of addiction. House is openly an addict, and the people around him openly enable it. It is a lot more interesting and realistic to see addiction (particularly in a healthcare setting) in Nurse Jackie. (You can incidentally get a lot better and more intimate view on the work lives of nurses from Nurse Jackie and Getting On than medical shows like House, which have nothing to do with nurses, in any case.) Addiction really only comes into stark focus as season five ends and season six begins, and House goes to rehab. I suppose the “party” could not go on forever.

Third note: I think I kept watching throughout because I like the cast. And for most of the cast, I like them in these roles. I have not really liked Jennifer Morrison in much other than in her role as Dr Cameron. I really have a growing hatred for Lisa Edelstein after suffering (forcing myself to suffer, really) through each week’s increasingly horrifying episode of Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, but seeing her in House makes her look strong, intelligent, thoughtful, insightful. Girlfriends Guide strips away every last bit of the humanity and compassion that Edelstein cultivated in House. I realize the point of acting is to… act, but the characters in GG2D are so distasteful that I can’t see why someone would want to stretch their “acting chops” to stoop so low. Robert Sean Leonard is a reliably good foil, friend and enabler for Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, and Omar Epps has carved out a career of being a doctor on TV.

While there are only so many scenes of close-ups of House’s brooding, thoughtful scowl a person can take, I appreciated the opening episode of House, wherein, as an introduction to his misanthropy, in which he explains to a patient who exclaims, after being probed, prodded and tested that she just wants to “die with dignity”:

“There’s no such thing! Our bodies break down, sometimes when we’re 90, sometimes before we’re even born, but it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it. I don’t care if you can walk, see, wipe your own ass. It’s always ugly, always….You can live with dignity, we can’t die with it.”

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