The Demise of Dr. Gregory House MD.

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.

Damian Lewis to front ‘Homeland’

Wow. How have I missed this little tidbit?! I like to keep an eye out for this sort of thing and if it slipped through my net chances are many of you won’t know of it either, so even though it’s relatively old news (late Dec 2010), I draw your attention to…

Showtime, the cable network behind numerous top quality tv shows (think Dexter, Californication, The United States of Tara), is developing a new series called HOMELAND, and in the lead role is none other than Brit hero Damian Lewis. The domestic terrorism story isn’t exactly original, but could be considered politically relevant I suppose, and nonetheless provides a lot of leeway for intrigue and excitement. Damian Lewis plays Sgt. Scott Brody, a Marine who returns to the US after over 8 years of captivity in Baghdad, Iraq and is instantly the subject of a CIA investigation suspecting that he is colluding and conspiring with his former kidnappers. Hopefully this homegrown terrorism plot won’t give in to scenes of such flagrant patriotism and the like as 24 did, but will instead be driven by the strength of it’s characters and plot lines. Knowing that Damian Lewis is generally very cautious and particular in his choice of roles gives me quite a lot of confidence that we won’t be disappointed.

Homeland will also star Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride), David Harewood (Blood Diamond), Laura Fraser (A Knight’s Tale) and Claire Danes (Stardust).

If, by some unfortunate fault in your upbringing, or through amnesia or whatever, you are unaware of Damian Lewis, he’s best known for his roles in Band of Brothers (nominated for a Golden Globe) and Life, although he was also terrific in The Escapist, Dreamcatcher, The Baker, and pretty much everything else he’s been in. (If you’re of an older generation, you may have been a fan of the 2002 mini-series The Forsyte Saga in which he was very convincing as the machiavellian Soames Forsyte. In fact, he particularly excels at sinister characters.)

With the track record both Showtime and Damian Lewis can boast, I have little doubt that this will be a show worth following. My only fear is that often the best shows don’t last long (see my eulogy of Terriers) – hopefully this one will get the ratings it needs to live a long, fruitful and above all, entertaining life!

Homeland still has no pilot release date but is due out in the fall this year.

Let’s talk 3D. Because we have to.

3D has been labelled all sorts of things in it’s relatively brief stint at the forefront of cinema. But is it groundbreaking, futuristic, or just a gimmick? Well, I couldn’t possibly answer that in such simplistic terms. But here’s the thing:

In a recent article about Clash of the Titans 2 (I didn’t dig it out, just stumbled upon it while browsing – in fact, I still haven’t seen the first one), I read that the  studios approach to the film would be to make 3D integral, “rather than just slapping it on at the end”. This set off alarm bells.

It’s one thing to offer an alternative viewing solution for audiences in the form of 3D, but there are a great many people, perhaps even a majority, who actually still prefer watching films in their original 2D aspect. Are those people to be spurned in favour of 3D exclusivity?

No doubt studios and directors will deny the suggestion, but if 3D is described as “integral” to the film, doesn’t that by definition mean that to watch it in 2D would be equivalent to somehow watching a lesser product?

There are numerous issues I have with 3D. Not least, I fail to understand why the technology is possible without glasses and yet cinemas still require them. Further, that cinemas charge more for a 3D film and in some venues additionally charge for the glasses to then view that film (Shrewsbury Cineworld for example). Finally, personally I’ve found focusing in 3D to be really difficult with blurring seemingly unavoidable. And it’s been known to give me a headache too.

Given that there has been so much emphasis on crisp, true HD recently one would think that a clear image would be a minimum requirement in a cinema. In fact, while I’m on the topic, is ordinary 2D cinema really showing as pristine an image as could be achieved? I feel sure that in a world where the illusion of another dimension can be created, at least some of the fuzziness could be cleaned up.

Plus, is 3D really 3D or are you essentially just watching layers of 2D with subtle image alterations? ie. Flat images aligned to give the impression of perspective.

Surely somebody else has noticed that while you’re focussing on the objects trying to appear nearby, objects in the distance are out of focus. When I watch a film I want to be able to observe what is going on in the background just as clearly as what is going on in the foreground – it all helps draw me in to the fictional world I’m watching. 3D denies me that option, and if films begin being created with 3D “integral” to their production and viewing, it’s not long before audiences and films will be split in to factions. Those that watch anything, and those that won’t watch 3D. Do studios really want to slim the already dwindling cinema market even more?