A House Retrospective

It’s weird to think about, but House was probably the first network television show I really got into. I’m the last person you’d expect this of, but truth be told I started watching dramatic television fairly late in the game, and House was a lot of the impetus. That and Lost, I suppose, but something about the medical procedural focused on the brilliant asshole (and by something, I of course mean the brilliant asshole) really hooked me.

I started watching at around the end of season 2, and bought the DVDs of what I’d missed between the second and third seasons because I just couldn’t get enough of it. Actually that’s the first time I ever bought the box sets for any TV show. Wow. I kept buying them through the first four seasons for the sake of completion, but the show kept going and my desire to rewatch the episodes waned, so…

Damn what a great show this was. Thinking back to those first few seasons I’m reminded why procedurals are so popular, and House, at its peak, was pretty much the perfect procedural. An incredible main character with some truly amazing weekly stories just made it so fantastic to follow.

It was really revolutionary at the beginning, the idea that the medicine would be the focus of a medical show. They made diseases into a puzzle that you loved watching the characters try to unravel. I still maintain that the best ever diagnosis was in the third episode: the patient had a cough, and the pharmacy accidentally gave him gout medication instead of coughing pills. Brilliant. Not to say they never came close to topping that one. A wife poisoned her husband, a guy swallowed a toothpick, a girl had a tick in her vagina. All wonderful stuff, and that’s barely scratching the surface. Just in terms of medical mysteries there are at least a couple dozen episodes so clever that they merit viewing just for the path to figuring out what the hell is actually wrong with the patient. Put the ten most intelligent sicknesses on House up against the ten cleverest deaths on CSI and we’ll see which were actually the most satisfying to see figured out.

Then there’s the character himself, and really, does anything more need to be said? Long before RDJ or Benedict Cumberbatch appeared in straight adaptations, Gregory House defined the modern day Sherlock Holmes (a character actually based on a Doctor in the first place). It’s deeply upsetting that Hugh Laurie never quite managed the Emmy win, because damn did he ever deserve it. Even when the show faltered, he was still insanely watchable. Unquestionably the best episode of the series is Three Stories, wherein House teaches a class of med students by giving them three hypothetical scenarios that all, in the end, turn out to be variations on the same patient: Himself. It’s House’s origin story, in which we find out exactly what happened to his leg and his life in general that made him the way he is.

It was a great show through Season 4 (which, though truncated by the writer’s strike, boasted the amazing search for House’s new team through a mad, reality competition-style interview process that combined the guilty pleasures of that genre with the intelligence of fully scripted television and then concluded in a two part finale that proved to be a stronger season ender than the series had before or since), but then the age began to show. The same themes were getting explored. They ran out of great ideas for the patient/mystery of the week. The cast rotated just a bit too much.

In fact I didn’t actually have the time or drive to keep up with the final season, and from what I hear I didn’t miss too much. And viewing the final two episodes…well, I more or less confirmed that I didn’t. The new team members, in particular, seemed awful.

But going out, they chose to focus on the House/Wilson relationship, and that was the right decision. They’ve been through a hell of a lot, those two. Giving Wilson cancer? Cruel as hell, but a pretty good idea. The best thing I saw in the last couple installments was House lashing out over Wilson’s choice to die.

And then the finale…left something to be desired. It was all just very understated, ending in more of a whimper than a bang (even though there was a literal bang). Never did House get passionate, and that was sort of what I was hoping for. All the former cast members reappearing was fine (especially seeing Stacy again; a huge part of his life that they haven’t really talked about since the second season, it was great to have her back), but only made it more egregious that Lisa Edelstein didn’t reprise her role as Cuddy. I mean…it’s Cuddy. After House and Wilson, she’s the most important character to the show. House could have lived or died, but faking his death? Not sure they made that feel truly earned. And I have to admit I disliked the song they went out on, even if it was Hugh Laurie’s suggestion.

The highlight was easily Wilson’s eulogy. He starts off calling House a healer, above all else, but out of both frustration and respect (House’s character, after all, represents the search for an objective truth) he can’t go on with all that “dearly departed” bullshit and calls House an ass who made others miserable and died a pathetic, selfish death. That was phenomenal, and I really like Chase taking over the team in the wrap-up montage (he’s probably my favorite of House’s fellows). Beyond that, though, it wasn’t that amazing an ending. It lacked a lot of the spark that made this show what it was, and just kind of left me feeling glad they didn’t keep it going any longer (and maybe that they’d stepped out of the spotlight a couple seasons ago).

But I’m grateful to the show for what it was. It gave us a truly iconic character, and captured my interest like no live action television had before. Everyone should at least see check out a few of the best episodes; there’s more than enough wit and pathos to justify the time.

Goodbye, Dr. Gregory House. You were a magnificent bastard.

 

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