For a long time House has been hailed as the Sherlock Holmes of medicine and the show enjoyed not only exceptionally healthy viewing figures, but the respect of health workers and viewers alike. It had a great reputation based on light hearted humour and intriguing medical problems, and each episode offered intrigue, if not excitement. Unfortunately, House is dying, and unless something major is done about it, he won’t be saved.
Where did it all go wrong?
Let’s start with the shameless recycling of story lines and themes:
- House & Cuddy
- House & Vicodin
- House & Happiness
- Trust vs Cynicism
- Science vs Faith
- Foreman vs Ambition
- Foreman vs Relationships (remember Thirteen)
- Taub vs Relationships (wife and adultery)
- Chase vs Relationships (cameron and girls in general)
- Wilson vs Relationships (wait…I’m seeing a trend here…)
Every episode these days thinly disguises one of the above themes with an emotional or moral dilemma, but House isn’t didactic. Nothing is learned. The episodes conclude with more or less the same resolution every week: House is selfish, but has his character developed? The answer is always the same: no.
Further, House epitomises the classic and somewhat misogynistic stereotyping of men as ‘the head’ (rationale, logic), women as ‘the heart’ (love, honesty). We began with Cameron, then we had Amber (the only woman whose focus was logic and they branded her “psycho-bitch”, killed her off within a season and then brought her back as an irritating hallucination). Now we’ve got Masters, who is basically Cameron – I even saw a hint of love interest from Chase towards her back in episode fourteen (just prior to Cuddy’s award ceremony).
Recently they attempted to mix up the standard formula (which they’ve used for seven seasons) – patient falls ill, House and team try and fail to diagnose, in the final few minutes they work out what was wrong, treat it, and inevitably learn some cheesy moral lesson in the process (which they take nothing from and repeat the following week). But instead of true novelty, the unorthodox episodes we’ve been offered have been gimmicks. A couple of episodes scattered here and there as a brief respite from the usual slog, but the flights of fantasy, be they hallucinations, music videos, computer games, film references or 1950s dreams aren’t enough to convince this viewer that he’s watching something new, different and worth his continued time.
There have been plenty of chances for the writing team to spark some fresh story lines. Take for example what could have been a terrific ending or at least a fantastic twist to the story: House going in to the mental hospital at the end of season five. Within two episodes, season six was back to the traditional formula.
In this season alone there has been tonnes of room for potential new story arcs and development:
When Cuddy’s mother is admitted there was a definite chance to throw a spanner in the works between House and Cuddy. What if she had died?
When Cuddy falls ill, there was the opportunity to cause a major controversy and stir and take the season in a new direction by killing her off (or somewhat less drastically, leaving her incapable of running the hospital for a while). Instead, they used it as an opportunity to take things back to square one, House returns to Vicodin (apparently sourced from the same bathroom supply he’s had since ever) and the two separate, leaving the writing team with lots more emotional tension to regurgitate. After all, it’s not like they haven’t covered all this ground before…
Aside from all of the above problems, the script itself has deteriorated significantly since the early seasons. The wit has dried up, replaced by a dry sarcasm that is much less droll and ergo much less entertaining than before. If they are to continue this series, they really need an imaginative innovator on their writing staff, or at least someone who is prepared to move away from the same cast, story lines and episode structure. Failing that, not even House and his team of emotionally stunted caricatures will be able to save the show from a gruelling death.