Monday, June 01, 2009

House and Saki

Speaking of House, I got into this show for the first time in the US, watching several episodes at a time. This puzzled me. Of course, Hugh Laurie's performance is dazzling, the show is beautifully made, entertainingly gory and very funny. Its increasingly absurd plots don't seem to matter once you have accepted the logic of the thing. But, I realised while watching the two series openers last night, every episode is exactly the same - two plots, one about House's life and one about a baffling case, are entwined and resolved with House's life still a mess and, usually, the patient cured by a masterpiece of diagnosis. The dramatic tension all springs from one question - is House's brilliance as a doctor and sarcasm generator enough to compensate for his human failings? I also realised that what keeps one watching is the ingenuity with which the writers wring variations out of this theme. House episodes are like Saki short stories - you read one and think, 'Hmmm that's clever', you read another, then another, then another until, finally, it becomes apparent that the variations are the point. Well, that and the fact that House's view on life and humanity are so spot-on. Oh, also we all have a fondness for obscure diseases - they're so consoling.


  1. Saki is a fine analogy. I've been watching it for a good while on Hallmark and I can assure you the format is as rigid as in The A-Team or Last of the Summer Wine. (A principle patient with mystery illness, series of clever but wrong diagnoses, flunkies do a bit of fieldwork, House does something to alienate someone, House throws his baseball in the air for a bit and comes up with the winner; plus a funny subplot.)

    It's astonishing how they keep coming up with the cunning ideas - there are more in one episode than a decade of Casualty - but what makes the show is that House himself is, essentially, a very intelligent version of Cartman.

  2. principal. Always struggle with that one.

  3. hmm, I think I'll give this one a miss... it sounds so over.

  4. Like Bryan I didn't watch House at all, then was lent a couple of box sets by a friend last February and went through a number in a short space of time. Not long after I began we learned that my father had terminal cancer and we were into the CAT scans and all that palaver, for the first time in my life.

    Plainly the House storylines were ridiculous, in terms of the frequency of very rare conditions in one hospital in Princeton, as Susan has said. But, and this is the funny thing, because the art sought to be true to life at another level, once disbelief was suspended on the stats, it was a great help. On the technology, the ever-present struggle with death and most of all House's sardonic realism about human nature. I thank God therefore for this piece of modern drama (and the person astute enough to lend it) more than most. But I couldn't watch much more after Dad was gone. Not because of painful memories, because it was too much to keep running into such rarities every week. And that lack of reality, driven I guess by the need to preserve ratings, did hurt.