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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Making House Calls: Inside FOX's Hit Medical Drama

Dr. Gregory House, M.D.: A pain-pill addicted, heavily sarcastic, brutally honest but often brilliant doctor who throws caution - as well as a pleasant bedside manner - to the wind. Some would think that such an abrasive and unpredictable central character would turn off viewers, but in its second season, "House, M.D." has gained amazing mainstream popularity, consistently garnering top 20 spots in the Nielsen television ratings.

What makes House succeed? Much like the explosively popular procedural dramas "CSI" and "Law and Order," "House" has a certain procedure of its own - the medical mystery.

House (Hugh Laurie) diagnoses infectious diseases, solving medical "unsolved anomalies." House and his team of highly specialized doctors - House-emulating neurologist Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps), compassionate immunologist Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and old-money intensivist Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) - track down clues any way they can (including breaking into houses and lying to patients) to cure diseases before time runs out.

With season one having introduced the characters and mysteries, season two has the room to delve into more personal issues. Last season's finale introduced Stacy, who was the love of House's life before she left him. Ironically, she tracks down House to ask him to cure her ailing husband, Mark - whom House would rather let die but does not. In the premiere episode of the second season, "Acceptance" (Sept. 13, 2005), Stacy joins the hospital staff as a law consultant while her husband recovers. She becomes a constant reminder of House's painful past, including the memory of the leg infection that forced him to use a cane and pain pills, a vulnerability House must eventually address.

Initially, though, his medical sleuthing stays as brilliant and abrasive as ever. His brutal honesty comes out in "Hunting," (Nov. 22, 2005), when he says, "Dying people lie too. Wish they'd worked less, been nicer, opened orphanages for kittens. If you really want to do something, you do it. You don't save it for a sound bite."

House and Stacy follow this advice in "Failure to Communicate" (Jan. 10, 2006), where the two have an opportunity to be open with one another. To Stacy, House is like spicy curry - no matter how much she loves the dish, it will eventually burn her mouth. House takes that interpretation almost literally, and they kiss.

However, in "Need to Know" (Feb. 7, 2006), the union unravels. House treats a do-it-all mother who secretly takes birth control, unable to admit to her husband that she does not want more children. This parallels another necessary, but agonizing, confession. House and Stacy consummate their affair, but House knows they cannot be together. He finally pushes away her advances, and she returns to Mark.

In the absence of Stacy, House is left to his pain, both figuratively and literally. His leg begins to ache more than ever before. His boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) gives House a "morphine" shot that cures his pain, but admits later that all she gave was saline. The real pain is in his mind and his heart, and no amount of medicine will dull that ache. He will eventually have to conquer it on his own.

This, in the end, is the exact reason the show succeeds. Hugh Laurie's character finds a way to battle his demons, even in the moments where his diagnosis is incorrect or the strength of his leg falters. He pushes people away with his abrasive attitude, and yet, those same individuals are drawn back into his world to learn from him. Viewers want to see him succeed. His character carries the entire show, and if this season is any indication, he will be able to carry it for many seasons to come.

"House. M.D." airs at 9 p.m. every Tuesday on Fox.