Saturday, 28 May 2011

Misery is Better Than Nothing

This a general overview of a 7 seasons series and may contain what people consider spoilers, but I don't think there are any really. Comments may contain spoilers. Proceed at your own peril.

This joke is served for Doctor Who fans who saw The Doctor's Wife episode. Those of you who haven't should, but can still enjoy this lovely picture of Hugh.

At first I said no to House. I couldn’t believe that my beloved Hugh Laurie, from the shows Blackadder and A Bit of Fry and Laurie Hugh, had been stolen from Stephen Fry by evil Americans and forced to speak American.

Something in the way Stephen Fry mentioned House in his Royal Albert Hall show made me change my mind. He said it was the most successful show (that year) in the world apart from in the UK, where it was very mildly received. I had to watch it, if only to make Stephen Fry proud of me one day.

Admittedly the first 3 seasons are not brilliant. They follow a formula and repeat it in every episode. There was nothing I hadn’t seen before in those first few seasons. Yet there I was, following it religiously and wanting more.

My love for Hugh Laurie, his incredible talent, charisma and hotness did not stop me in the past from dismissing things like Stewart Little or that episode of Friends, where he was criminally underused. So it wasn’t just Hugh that made me fall in love with House.

When I started watching House I had no idea that his character was inspired by Sherlock Holmes. After naively mentioning how much House’s methods reminds me of Holmes I was enlightened by my favourite besty Nathalie.

I have always had two major problems when it comes to screen versions of Sherlock Holmes.

No adaptation, including House and the wonderful Sherlock, manages to capture the actual character. It is a very difficult character to transfer to the screen. Generally all screen Sherlocks are either too handsome, too healthy looking or too young- looking for how I imagine Sherlock Holmes to be.

While Sherlock Holmes’ misanthropy is naive, not bitter and comes out of genuine lack of interest in other people, House’s misanthropy is miserable and full of pain. His world view derives from the gloomy assumption that “Everybody Lies.” For Holmes it doesn’t matter whether anyone lies. Also, unlike Holmes, House can and does fall in love. However, these differences will take House, the series and the character, into their own independent development.  

In the Sherlock Holmes books Watson observes Holmes, always trying to figure out how he works and stops him with questions that Holmes sometimes answers and sometimes ignores. All screen adaptations miss this element of the Sherlock Holmes experience and fall into the same pattern, showing the thought process and method at the conclusion of the story and usually through flashbacks.

House is the only version of Holmes I know that tries to take Watson’s position as an observer of the genius at work, and tries to understand his process, his obsession with finding answers and eventually him.

Doctor Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a world famous, maverick, diagnostician dealing with cases that all other doctors failed to diagnose. This, of course, refers to Doctor Joseph Bell, who was Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

In the first three seasons, each episode presents a medical mystery. Possible suspects, different diseases, are written on a white board and crossed out as the episode and the disease progress. If you are not interested in riddles, solving puzzles and Hugh Laurie, like me, you can probably skip most of seasons one and two and definitely give season 3 a complete miss. Those are all about the cases and the method and tend to be repetitive.  

However I would recommend a few exceptional episodes. Three Stories (season 1 episode 21) tells House’s own story of being misdiagnosed. All In (season 2 episode 17) gives a glimpse into House’s obsession.  Euphoria parts 1+2 (season 2 episodes 20 and 21) where Doctor Eric Forman (Omar Epps), a member of House’s team, gets infected with a dangerous disease, and season two's fantastic finale No Reason, which would be better watched if I said nothing. Those early episodes give some taste of the direction the series will follow from season four onwards.

It is when director/producer Greg Yaitanes, who directed single episodes in the first two seasons, became more involved with the creative side of the show, and the insufferable puppy- eyed character, Doctor Alison Cameron’s (Jennifer Morrison), was reduced to a minimum, that House turns from a simple medical CSI to something brilliant.

A lot of new characters are introduced at the beginning of season four, changing the dynamic and bringing a breath of fresh air to the series. But perhaps most importantly, the medical cases are pushed to the back burners to clear the stage and support the heart and soul of the show, Doctor Gregory House, his best friend his complete opposite Doctor James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and Doctor Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), House’s boss and the only one who can have some sort of control over him.

Suddenly motifs that were planted in the earlier seasons reappear and change as the series goes on. From the “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” song that repeats in many different formats in almost all seasons, to visual quotes like the end of Bombshell (season 7) referring to the ending of Help Me (season 6) and both relating to the end of season five, or the episode Two Stories (season 7) that refers Three Stories (season 1) and not just through the title. Strung together with the painfully understated development of the drama, all these pieces are the overall puzzle that is House.

Understatement is the name of the game in House’s later seasons, which reaches its unbearable and wonderful climaxes in seasons six and seven. It is the kind of understatement, mastered by Joss Whedon, which tends to rip me apart and leave me dead and empty inside. The drama is a lot quieter and very restrained, and at the same time, a lot more painful.

If there is anything that House does best, it's pain. The levels of self destruction and hurt in House have made even my own black and miserable soul look away in terror. House, the series and the man, moves from giving moments of hope, where you think “yes, things can get better” and destroying them, to moments that prove, just when you think things can’t get any worse and the levels of pain have reached as far as they can, it can and often does get much more painful. 

Through seven seasons House has perfected painful anti- climaxes and the mundane, to both art and accurate science. There are no big gestures or big statements. Happiness as well as depression are, much like the devil, in the details.  
Unlike The Wire mosaic, which is a lot more unified and tight because it was written originally as five season- series, House is a million piece puzzle that can be frustrating at the start, but then the pieces starts to fit and make sense, and a picture of Gregory House is slowly revealed, a character that I admire and love though it breaks my heart. This combination creates my favourite kind of television characters.

Season seven has reached its end this week in the US and Fox have announced the commissioning of another season. Deep down, I know this can’t be good. House has stretched the drama and the levels of darkness as far as they can, or at least this is how I feel right now. Nevertheless I know I will be back for more, because like the addict that I am I don’t know when to stop, and who knows; House has surprised me before, what if he can do it again?  


  1. Oh, what a glorious start to a blog!
    This was a great read and it made me actually want to watch House again. Well, you know, not again, but to pick up from where I left off.

    Now, translate it and we can post it on our blog. *cough*

  2. Really???? (She asks blushing and looking at the ground) Thank you.

    I shall now wait eagerly for you to finish watching. That's OK take your time... Still waiting eagerly over here.