Tuesday, February 19, 2008

House of Pants

I don’t know why I do it to myself (not that – you perverts). Every week I watch it, and every week I vow never to do so again. Yet there I am, the next Monday, with a cup of tea in hand, curled under a blanket, waiting for this week’s installment of House.

There was a time I really liked the show – namely, around the first season. Looking back, that entire season is a deft series of wonderfully compact teleplays, bookended with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the famous chorus to which also serves to highlight the main theme of the show. It was formulaic even then, sure, but at least it had a certain panache to the way it told its stories. First of all, that’s what the show was about – the completely bizarre sets of ailments that plagued the patients (one of whom literally had the plague, I believe), and the way House and his cronies tried to solve the case. Character development was reduced to the purely Aristotelian conceit of the revelation of decision – habitual action, as they call it in the trade. The show had none of the usual vicarious indulgences for the audience in the form of inane dialogue between characters, which was no mean feat in a medium that’s usually defined by exposition. The one truly outstanding factor was Dr Gregory House, and literally everything centred around him. Now this is a fine line to tread because the central performance would have to be truly captivating for such an approach to succeed (case in point, CSI: Miami and David Caruso’s Horatio Crane, who is the antichrist), yet the producers had, in the unlikely Hugh Laurie the best man for the job (even though his accent is at times all over the place). Like Lost’s first season, House, too, had an incredible penultimate episode (Three Stories – brilliant beyond measure), and again like Lost, it suffered from a tremendous sophomore slump. But unlike that show, House has never recovered from the terrible two’s, and has instead kept on slumping. It’s somewhere around the earth’s core at the moment.

The first reason is this: the show can’t do sustained storylines. I wish the writers would face the facts and realise that, and just try to find another way to keep the show fresh. The end of the first season saw the introduction of House’s ex into the equation, and the show spent the first half of the season dealing with that. The more we found out about House, the less intriguing he became, naturally, and his acerbic wit less and less funny. The third season had the “cop-out-to-get-House” arc for the first ten or so episodes, and that, too, just dragged on ad infinitum (and ad nauseaum). And now the fourth season has House looking for new colleges, which is only marginally more interesting than the previous season’s arc. Who will he hire? Who will get fired? Who gives a shit?

If there was one thing that the second season managed to achieve (and I think there is actually only one thing), it was the organic, intrinsic development of the main characters, and their relationships with each other. The three doctors were much less intimidated by House, who, in turn, appeared far more confident in their abilities to not fuck up completely. That welcome development was summarily thrown out the window in the third season, and instead, all the characters ended up where they were at the beginning of the series. You can’t build characters and rekationships, and then just wipe the slate clean to inject the show with artificial drama.

Aside: The second season, and parts of the third season, were very much like Voltron. In the cartoon, the pilots never formed the damn robot until the very end of the episode as they got their asses kicked by the Robeast of the Week. And even then, they would be within inches of their lives before they decided to use Voltron's massive sword to cut the requisite enemy in half. It's the same in the second and third seasons. The colleges never used the lombar puncture until the last ten minutes of a particular episode, which sometimes worked, and sometimes didn't; but they used it every single week anyway. If I were them, I would lombar puncture the crap out of everyone in that hospital the moment they stepped into the building. I have no idea what a lombar puncture is (I don't particularly care).

The show has become repetitive and boring. I know my complaints are paradoxical, in that I said I preferred the episodic first season, yet now lament that the patient-of-the-week storylines are dull. But that has more to do with the show’s arcs, which always have me on the edge of my seat with ennui, and the cases, which seem to venture more and more into the downright bizarre and unbelievable. So now we have continuing storylines that no one cares about, and medical mysteries that are not really mysterious so much as ways for different guises for House to insult people. The thing is, ironic misanthropy works best when we don’t know anything about a character. Looking at House, and knowing all that we know about him, what he displays is not wit – it’s simply a ruse for more ratings.

Having said all that, come next Monday, I will be right there, in front of the telly, watching what Greg and his mates are up to. After four years, it's still a joy to watch Hugh Laurie, and, what can I say, I like Jennifer Morrison and Lisa Edelstein. They can puncture my lombar anytime.


bassplyr5150 said...

"Lumbar Punctures" are Spinal Taps. And I'm not talking about the band.

Ali Arikan said...

Intra-Venus de Milo?