Weekly Review: House, MD (2004-2012)

Dr. Gregory House is a brilliant doctor, solving medical cases that no other doctor seems able to solve. He’s also a manipulative jerk and addicted to Vicodin, much to the angst of his patients and coworkers.

This review will cover the entire series of House, MD (often referred to as House) which aired from 2004-2012 on FOX.

House could be described as the Sherlock Holmes of medical dramas. Each week, House and his team receive a seemingly unsolvable case, and they manage to solve it. This doesn’t mean that the patient always lives. Sometimes the patient is cured. Sometimes the patient receives an answer, but has to live with the complications. Other times, the patient dies before a diagnosis is found.

This has always been my favorite thing about House. As a viewer, there are no guarantees. It keeps the procedural formula interesting.

As a character, House (Hugh Laurie) is complicated. He comes off as a manipulative jerk, and he is, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t connect with the people who are closest to him when the rare situation comes up. His worldview is extremely pessimistic. His main mantra is that “everybody lies,” which results in many dubious ways of finding the truth about the patient. House rarely ever does the dirty work himself, preferring to send his team out on tasks while he indulges himself in childish antics.

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Another large aspect of House’s character is his addiction to Vicodin, as a result of his permanently injured leg. The show does go into detail about what caused his pain to become so severe, in an attempt to create sympathy for the character’s obvious addiction. Throughout the first few seasons, House is open about his use of pain killers. He’ll often take a handful while his team members or boss is watching. As the series progresses, he deals with getting sober and struggling to maintain that sobriety, as an addict would.

Throughout the series, several different doctors have the privilege and curse of working with House. His original team consists of three doctors, Foreman (Omar Epps), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Chase (Jesse Spencer). After several seasons, more characters are introduced, most notably “Thirteen” (Olivia Wilde) and Taub (Peter Jacobson). These characters all have their own ways of dealing with House’s antics. Some of them are able to maintain their moral compass, while others become more like House than they ever would have wanted.

Two other important characters throughout the series are Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). While House’s team deals with him on his cases, most of the deeper relationship stuff is dealt with by Wilson and Cuddy. Wilson is House’s best friend, often the victim of House’s pranks and jokes, but almost always compassionate and forgiving. Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine at the hospital, is somewhat of an antagonist while also serving as House’s main love interest. Both of these characters have history with House that pulls them closest to him.

Since House is such a complex, manipulative character, one of the main aspects of the show is that the people around him are constantly trying to figure out what his motives are. This is actually one of the things that I found myself annoyed by throughout the series. While it can be entertaining to speculate about him at times when House is deliberately being manipulative, there are other times where it seems counter-intuitive. For example, when people attempt to explain his personality traits, it seems to drag the story too much.

The first three seasons of the show are very well received. They’re undoubtedly the best seasons, both in terms of characters and writing. Fan reactions seem to split during the fourth season, when House holds a sort of survival competition to find new doctors for his team. While I still enjoyed the fourth and fifth seasons, I will say that the show starts to drop off around season six.

Unfortunately, the main reason that this decrease in quality seems to arise is because the show becomes less procedural and more like a soap opera, focusing on too many different romantic relationships and the ups and downs that accompany them. The lowest point comes with season seven, when the sexual tension of the entire series becomes a disappointing relationship. The eighth and final season regains a small amount of momentum, but the feeling still isn’t the same as when it originally started.

One of the biggest things that could turn people off about House is the high use of medical terms. For me personally, this show increased my medical knowledge because I would often look up information about the conditions depicted. For many others, however, the use of medical terminology to this extent was a huge turn off, making it difficult to get into a plot that wasn’t fully understood. I can see where that would be a problem. I know it was even a problem for some of the actors working on the show.

In addition to the dramatic romance subplots, there are other aspects of the show which seem too contrived. One example of this is the fact that House, the head of a department, is forced to complete hours at the walk-in clinic, sometimes in intervals of 4-6 hours in a single day. His superiors will add clinic hours to his schedule as a form of punishment throughout the series. This never made sense to me. Why force the head of a department to leave said department? Aren’t there other doctors and nurses for the walk-in clinic?

On top of that, the fact that House and his team go through so many different medical procedures in a guess-and-check style for one patient is unrealistic and would result in large financial difficulties for both the patient and hospital. The show flows better if you’re able to suspend your disbelief about that fact. Hugh Laurie, who portrays Dr. House, has said that himself.

Despite the fact that House does decrease in quality as the series progresses, I would still recommend it, at least for seasons 1-3. During these peak seasons, the writing brings a fresh look at the medical procedural. It’s interesting to see the different personalities of House’s team members clash with his own, and it’s even more interesting to see who becomes more like him than they’d ever care to admit.

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