Saying goodbye to Dr. Gregory House is not an easy thing to do. There was a time when I watched this show and Boston Legal, realizing that not only did I sympathize intensely with the lonely, not always likable protagonists as played by Hugh Laurie and James Spader, but that they also represented traits within me that were recognizable. Anyone who finds the leading characters a complete mystery should perhaps settle for mediocre fare like One Tree Hill or 7th Heaven. It would ultimately be impossible to keep watching this and not care for that bastard we know as House.
A miserable human being
The show took place at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey, where a special department dedicated to diagnostics was headed by the brilliant Gregory House (Laurie). Ailing from a leg injury that had him popping Vicodin like it’s M&M’s, House was a cranky, rude, sarcastic and generally miserable human being who treated his staff like dirt even though he needed them, a white board and some back and forth to come up with answers to the difficult cases his department was handed. His ideas were generally out of the mainstream and involved conflict with the Dean of Medicine, Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), but House also relied on the constantly challenged friendship with James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), the head of the Department of Oncology.
His diagnostics team initially consisted of Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) who had no trouble ignoring moral boundaries, Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) who despised House’s freewheeling methods, and Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) who was ambitious and strictly by-the-book.
Everything but the kitchen sink
It doesn’t take a genius to see where creator David Shore got his inspiration – this medical procedural drama was boosted by the presence of a Sherlock Holmes-like doctor. Every episode had a case that was true to fact to a great extent, but also generally had a unrealistic moment near the end where House finally had the epiphany that solved it and (usually) saved the patient.
This medical sleuth naturally had his own Watson, Wilson, whose friendship endured much and provided a basis for the show’s funnier moments… but also heartfelt emotions as their relationship grew, not least in the final season. Over the years, the writers threw in everything but the kitchen sink in attempts to test House. We saw him battle his pill addiction, as well as mental instability (resulting in episodes that played tricks on our minds as well in very clever ways). We saw him spin completely out of control, which landed him in prison. We saw him deal with grief, fear and the alluring yet not trustworthy potential of happiness.
It was all beautifully enacted by Laurie in one of television’s most memorable performances ever, one that inspired plenty of other shows. But the writers never forgot to make his supporting cast look interesting as well, even as it changed. Leonard was excellent as that necessary counterweight to House’s foolishness – and as a fall guy for his pranks.
House primarily dealt with pain – the kind of hurt that comes from either a person falling critically ill as in every episode’s medical case, or the kind of long-term hurt that afflicts all of us as we deal with broken relationships, addiction, loneliness and mental issues. The show touched us the most when it forced the doctor to face his darkest demons – the prospect of losing what mattered to him the most, first his mind and then his best (only) friend.
House 2004-2012:U.S. Made for TV. 177 episodes. Color. Created by David Shore. Cast: Hugh Laurie (Gregory House), Robert Sean Leonard (James Wilson), Lisa Edelstein (Lisa Cuddy, 04-11), Omar Epps, Jesse Spencer, Jennifer Morrison (04-10), Peter Jacobson (07-12), Olivia Wilde (07-10), Kal Penn (07-09), Charlyne Yi (11-12), Odette Annable (11-12).
Emmys: Outstanding Directing 07-08; Writing 04-05. Golden Globes: Best Actor (Laurie) 06, 07.
Quote: “Everybody lies.” (Laurie’s catchphrase)
Last word: “The great thing about Hugh Laurie, from my point-of-view, is that he and I have shared the same vision of this character, from day one. We read a lot of people and we met with a lot of people and nobody seemed to get it. And then, he came in and he was House. If you watch his audition tape, which you can from the Season 1 DVD, he was doing the same thing then that’s doing now, and it was without any direction or coaching. He put himself on tape, over in Africa, and sent it in to us, and he obviously was thinking the exact same things that we were. It’s been a wonderful collaboration for me.” (Shore, Collider)