House and the Kiss of Death

Ten minutes into last night’s House, one of the famed doctor’s underlings gave their gravely ill patient a couple of pills and said: “Take these, you’ll be better within an hour.”

I turned to my daughter, a major House junkie.

“He’s a dead man,” I said, and so he was, but not for another 48 minutes, a time punctuated by the kind of medical madness that would cause the closure of House’s hospital even in less-regulated states than New Jersey. House is yet another occasionally brilliant show done in by its premise – by which to say, its formula. In year three, it’s clearly run its course and not even Hugh Laurie’s convincing portrayal of an American can save it.

Which is too bad, because House has several important recurring themes; the one I enjoy the most is the tension between medicine as a business versus medicine as a calling. Greg House shudders at the spiritual (most of the time) and wears a relentless anti-sentimentality like a protective lab coat.

It’s a fine conceit, if only the increasingly lame hour-long plot lines – strange accident/incident/collapse…a tough diagnosis…the first treatment…cardiac arrest and bodies flopping around like beached fish in distress…much angst…strange procedure…crash number two….angry family/friend/lover showdown usually involving hospital administrator…cure or death…pensive House looking into middle distance.

As Ken Levine remarked the other day, the writers seem to feel the need to push the strangeness factor to a world of deep unreality:

HOUSE just seems to get more and more outrageous. Always entertaining but they seem to be reaching for stories now more than ever. As I was watching this episode, an exciting new plotline for the series came to me. I think it was during the paranoid psychotic episode. Dr. House becomes George Bush’s personal physician. Round up the green med students and the fire extinguisher!

The show is popular and can certainly last. James Garner played Jim Rockford is essentially the same plot arc week after week on ABC in the 70s – new client, love interest, Jim gets the crap beat out of him by a couple of toughs, chase scene, snarky dialogue with cop friend, second chase scene, cue kicker joke with Rocky/Angel on the pier.

Perhaps it’s the curse of the hospital show; in the end, they’re always emotional string-pullers – easy and cheesy. House tries to be more than that but it’s fallen into both formula and banal craziness for crazy’s sake. It’s enough to make you pine for Laurie’s sublime Bertie Wooster.