Monday, 11 January 2010

BrokenTV’s THTSOT 00s: Number 20

After a slight delay for having to work out why our PC was performing about as smoothly as an overclocked Spectrum +2A (now fixed), into the top twenty we gallop.
imageNow, when it comes to the drama shows that are on this list, we do have a habit of cooing coquettishly over shows where the events within each episode come as a surprise. House, quite unlike the other dramas you’ll see here, defiantly refuses to do that.
Here’s the plot of an average episode of House. Character you’ve never seem before is carrying out an activity, normally something slightly out of the ordinary, like kickboxing, chasing a criminal, piloting an airliner full of kittens onto an iceberg after a catastrophic engine failure or, occasionally, standing next to someone else doing those things in a token nod to challenging our expectations. Cue a CGI zoom into their innards, to show the audience in stultifying detail something horrid going splashingly wrong with their inside parts. Then, the director will usually switch to a Point Of View shot of their vision going a bit fuzzy, wobbling about a bit, then hitting the ground, leaving us seeing little but the ankles of concerned onlookers rushing around while shouting “oh my God, call 911!” (unless it’s the airline pilot we’d mentioned, in which case there’d probably be a lot of playing with wool and mewling for milk in the background). Cut to titles.
After the opening credits (accompanied by Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ if you’re watching a US broadcast of the show, a piece of library music vaguely similar to it if you’re not), we’ll find ourselves at Princeton‑Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey, where Doctor Gregory House and his team of underlings are looking at the unlucky patient’s symptoms, hastily scribbled onto a whiteboard by House. They’ll assume they know what it is immediately, they’ll try the blindingly obvious cure, and it won’t work. They’ll realise that has ruled out the most likely diagnosis, someone will chirp up with “if the patient reacted like that to Madeupothol, then it can only be Fictionalitis”. They’ll treat Fictionalitis, and the patient will get even sicker, and either almost die, or be accused of faking the whole thing. Then Dr House will insult everyone, do something unconventional like fart on some scalpels to prevent surgery for taking place, and save the day. The end, apart from all the bits where the personal relationships between the main characters progress at a glacial pace, in amongst all the wandering around talking about medicine and sarcasm.
Sounds crap, doesn’t it? Well, you’re wrong. What are you, an idiot? It’s actually brilliant. We’ve just done a tremendous disservice to the writers of the show, with our aren’t-we-clever-and-cynical little synopsis up there, and not because we didn’t include the bits where the doctors break into the patients house to see if they’ve got E-coli growing under their bed. and while the above plot does account for a great deal of many House episodes, it’s the greater story arcs we’re interested in. The first couple of seasons tend to meander along under their own steam, with House’s relentlessly grumpy treatment of his colleagues accounting for most of the sub-plots. From season three onwards, things get more interesting, with House recovering from his disability, sacking everyone, performing a demented season-long talent show (an ‘X-Ray Factor’ if you will. Oh, please yourselves) in order to find their replacements, going mad, taking up cooking, and so on.
It’s the later seasons that make House that bit more special. As least for the BrokenTV team, the sheer bewilderment of Hugh “Ninety-Two Years Old And I've Never Had Oral Sex” Laurie playing the lead in a hugely popular US drama series was enough to keep us watching for a couple of years, just for the sheer novelty. After all, he’d only just appeared in ITV1 flop Fortysomething over here, and all that he’d really done ‘over there’ was play tiny roles in Family Guy (English Bar Patron, the episode where the local bar became a British pub), Friends (Sarcastic Airline Passenger Sat Next To Jennifer Aniston, in one of the terrible ‘London’ episodes) and 101 Dalmatians (the bad guy who wasn’t Mark Williams), alongside a bigger role in kids movie Stuart Little. To see him become the focal point of (what would become) the most popular television show in the world, is something even a malarial madman couldn’t have imagined six years ago. After watching him in House for a few episodes, you soon realise that his global esteem is quite genuinely deserved – Laurie is utterly brilliant as Dr House. Laurie is complemented superbly by his co-players, most notably Lisa Edelstein as his long suffering boss Dr Lisa Cuddy, and Robert Sean Leonard as his even longer suffering best chum Dr Wilson (who are only ever addressed by House as “Cuddy” and “Wilson” respectively), though the actors playing his henchquacks also deserve credit.
It’s very rare we’ll actually find ourselves genuinely loving a phenomenally, globally popular television programme. Partly because we’re such contrary bastards, but partly because for a programme to appeal to such a wide-ranging selection of people of vastly differing backgrounds, it must surely be cutting some artistic corners somewhere, in order to appeal to as many territories as possible. House manages not to do that, it’s as unashamedly clever as you could ever hope a show from Fox to be, and while it hasn’t really taken off here (a situation not helped by it being buried in the digital wastelands of Hallmark , Five and Sky One), in countries around the world, it is colossal. For example, in France, where the show airs on TF1, it regularly attracts audiences of over ten million – that’s a drama show dubbed into French from its original language, as popular there as Doctor Who is here. Or, if you’d prefer, the original Swedish version of Wallander being bigger than Coronation Street. What with the French enjoying a reputation for enjoying hard-hitting, intelligent drama (at least in our blinkered Francophile heads), that’s a pretty damn good endorsement right there. Yay House.

2 .:

Simon said...

Always liked this, both for being excellent Hugh Laurie and for the precise namecheck at 3:52 -

Mark X said...

Indeed so. On seeing that speech for the first time, it brought a properly warm grin to my face. The only way it could have been any better would have been if he's included a nod to Ted Kunterblast.

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