By Rob Purchase
I have to admit, the first time I saw an ad for House on Fox last fall I didn’t exactly clear my schedule for the first episode. Fantastic, I thought, another medical drama that will no doubt be left behind in ER’s wake.
Well, one Tuesday night it just so happened that my girlfriend and I were sitting around at 9 p.m. with nothing to do. Not being huge reality show fans (I know, I know, sacrilege for Pulse fans!), we found ourselves casually flipping the channels until we reached House. Needless to say, the remote has not been touched on a Tuesday night since.
The show follows the ornery yet brilliant Dr. House and his team of young doctors as they investigate cases where patients have fallen ill for unknown reasons. Each episode focuses on a single mysterious case, allowing the audience to follow the team’s diagnosis and treatment as it evolves.
There are numerous reasons for the high quality of the show. First, the writing has remained consistently strong throughout the season. In particular, the writers understand that recent medical shows have failed because they try to mimic ER’s dialogue and pace too closely.
The focus of ER is on the character development of the doctor’s themselves and how they deal with the pressures of their work. Conversely, the writers of House focus on the patients and their individual stories. We only get momentary glimpses into the character of the doctors. Thus the writers do not resort to cheap plot twists, such as relationships between characters to draw the audience in. I for one find it refreshing to watch a show that trusts its audience to be relatively intelligent.
In that respect, the show is most similar to the Law and Order franchise, another favourite of mine. There is little time wasted on subplots and side stories that detract from the main story.
In particular, the House character is superbly written. In a recent episode, House sums ups his character’s line of reasoning: “In this touchy, feely age, reason is not a popular thing. Facts are not popular things. Logic is not a popular thing. Warmth and emotion are very popular things.” I’m not sure a television character has ever summed up my personal philosophy so succinctly as this!
The show’s success is also a result of the fantastic casting decisions. The central character is the cynical and cantankerous Dr. House, portrayed by Englishman Hugh Laurie. Those of us who are fans of classic British comedy (come on, I can’t be the only one!) will remember Laurie from his days starring alongside Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean himself) in the Blackadder series. He also appeared alongside British comedy legend Stephen Fry in the groundbreaking series A Bit of Fry and Laurie.
Simply put, Laurie is a supremely talented actor. His timing and deadpan delivery are crucial to selling the character’s cynicism to the audience. It is also nice to see a Brit successfully pull of a North American accent. How many times have we seen hack American and Canadian actors try some foreign accent only to fail miserably?
The supporting players are equally important to the show’s success. Omar Epps (The Wood, Major League 2, ER) portrays Dr. Eric Foreman (No, this is not a That 70’s Show spin-off). Foreman is the level-headed foil to House’s often illogical reasoning. Relative unknowns Jennifer Morrison and James Spence round out House’s team of doctors. Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poets Society) and Lisa Edelstein (West Wing, Ally McBeal) portray House’s occasionally unsupportive superiors.
Together, they form a solid ensemble. There is little to no over-acting happening here (ER anyone). Everybody understands his/her role and performs well within the script.
This is not to say the show is without problems. I have two personal pet peeves with the show so far. The first is that the decision making by Dr. House and his team often relies on intuition and irrational thinking. This directly contrasts House’s own self-diagnosed philosophy. The second is that the team, as of the first 10 episodes, has yet to make a fatal mistake. In the last episode, a homeless woman dies from rabies only because the team did not make the diagnosis quickly enough. I would like to see an episode where the team just do not get it right at all, for no other reason than to have a little variety.
That being said, House is an outstanding show and I am glad it has been picked up for a second season. In an age where the quality of scripted shows is definitely worsening, House offers a little hope in an otherwise hopeless television landscape.
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