Recurring Cast: Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Morrison, Omar Epps, Jesse Spencer, Robert Sean Leonard, Lisa Edelstein
Maybe House’s greatest weapon is that it works in the first place. Medical dramas are a tricky breed of stories to get right, because there is a reliance on medical vernacular you need a medical degree to understand and the genre has become so riddled in cliché, it is rather hard to take seriously. Dr. Drake Ramoray, anyone?
House ignores the fact it might be a bit tricky to understand and just ploughs through regardless. It is filled to the brim with complicated words like Lupus, tuberculosis and lumbar punctures. If you don’t keep up, too bad. Much like the impatient title character, the writers have no time for anyone not on their wavelength. If you can somehow keep yourself in the loop, you will find each episode having a promising mystery in store for you. The surprising thing about House is that it isn’t too different from a by-the-numbers cop show. There is a poor victim with their life on the line, a mysterious enemy killing them off and a group of sparring heroes who need to think fast to save the day. Only this time the bad guy is some sort of disease rather than anything human. Hell, with all the medical and scientific lingo, Bryan Singer may have just come up with the best spin off of CSI to date. Every murder mystery or cop show staple is there. We have the grieving families, the department head always on the verge of shutting the leads down and even the red herrings. You even begin associating personalities and levels of drama with certain diseases. Auto-immune is the recurring foe that can survive most vaccines and the big bad is easily cancer, never not raising the stakes dramatically when mentioned. There is even a guest star appearance from Anthrax. Yes, the vocabulary and medical side of things are difficult to keep up with, but in keeping the tone and style of the show grounded in stereotypical yet entertaining pacing, the audience never lose touch with what is a surprisingly original series.
Of course, one of the main draws to the show is the irresistible lead. Gregory House is a whirlwind of a character. Since House, shows have begun churning out anti-heroes left, right and centre from the Blacklist to House of Cards, but none have ever come close to laying a finger on the original douchebag hero. He is impossibly cruel. House is Princetown Plainsborough’s Head of Diagnostic Medicine, a department in a hospital designed solely for the cases no one else can solve. House is a brilliant but risk-taking doctor, whose methods might be controversial (and never before as a show pushed this concept like House, M.D), but he is often always right and usually comes up with a way to save the day. However, the hospital accepts House with a price: the man is always a few moments away from a total mental breakdown. Nursing a crippled leg that forces him to use a walking cane and leaves him in constant agony, House is a pill-popping, sociopathic nightmare. He isn’t in the job out of any sense of kindness, refusing to have any face-to-face time with his patients, but enjoys his job for the riddle. His ego feeds off of the concept that only he can solve the problem at hand. He is also crippled by a sense of boredom. Unable to keep his mind occupied with the day-to-day chores of a hospital, House is often trying to elevate boredom in the wildest of ways. This leads birth to one of the more fun factors of House. House’s true cruelty comes from his enjoyment of manipulating those around him. He sees his staff, and sometimes patients, as puppets that he can test mind games out on. While each episode consists of the gang rushing around trying to save a patient, it also has a sub-plot where House is toying with his staff, pushing their buttons to examine how they react. He treats the world as his psychological playground. The character is diabolical, his only redeeming features his ability to save his patients and the fact that, no matter how nasty and heartless he is being, there is always a trace of humour to his delivery. The dry sarcasm is too difficult not to find amusing. The writers again show their talents, by not only making the complex subject matter of medical mysteries easy to follow, but in making the vilest character to ever grace a TV screen a loveable cult icon.
Of course, there must be praise given to Hugh Laurie as well. The actor is phenomenal. For us UK viewers, we all know Hugh Laurie as a British comedy star from the 80s. He played mainly the fools, blithering idiots that often had much wiser actors picking up the pieces after them. Imagine our surprise when Hugh Laurie burst into American TV with a performance like that. Wow… just wow! For me, Hugh Laurie is only beaten by Bryan Cranston when it comes to the Best TV Performance out there. His American accent is so precise, there isn’t a single trace of the Britishness that came before (and his English accent really is strong). His comedy muscles are used subtly, most of the performance focused on delivering an outstanding character piece of a self-destructive man with an arrogance that is causing those around him to suffer. He fills the screen with his presence and, fittingly for a show named after him, steals the show with every beat. Guest stars don’t stand a chance, Chi McBride popping in halfway through as a villain character, but never getting one over on Hugh Laurie. In fact, that is House’s downfall. There is a big cast list here, but no one ever comes close to taking the spotlight away from Laurie. The characters are all written is as a foil to the lead character. They’re not as bad as I remember. Jesse Spencer’s Chase might be joked as being the idiot of the group, but his character is quite interesting, when we slow down the viewing and focus on the smaller details. Jennifer Morrison is given the most irritating character, but she brings up some strong themes. Omar Epps’ performance is less monotone and more focused. It all works at being the cocktail that is House. However, every character arc or decision thrown their way always has the aim of unlocking House’s character. Chase’s frustration at making a grievous medical mistake is written in so we can see how House reacts. Jennifer Morrison’s views on the world is just an excuse to play the House is a cynic card once again. The show starts and ends with Hugh Laurie and while there is nothing wrong with that, it does hold the show back from being outstanding television. It will just have to settle for being great instead.
Final Verdict: Hugh Laurie is incredible as the title character, but the writers deserve MVP award for making such a complicated genre so accessible.