Saturday, June 03, 2006

Being a jackass for fun and profit: House, season 2

Those are not the drugs he is looking for.

House is an odd, odd beast of a show. It's, at heart, a procedural. It's as formulaic as any episode of CSI, except when it isn't. And the formula should have gotten grating by now (they're wrong, they're wrong, they're wrong, it's a tumor is pretty much what it boils down to). But it has character development, of a sort. Scratch that. It has a REALLY GREAT character in Dr. House. One of the finest on TV in a long time. But he doesn't really develop. He can't, if he's going to be the center of a big, hit TV show. He might be touched by a dying girl, but it will cause him to. . .go out and buy a motorcycle? Really?

That said, creator and head writer David Shore can take this character and run with him for miles and miles and miles. When he moves the character incrementally forward (as he did in the finale, when House hallucinated a whole reality for himself that eventually led to his requesting a cure for his leg pain, which will eliminate his limp, one of the primary reasons for his grouchiness), it's breathtaking. Plus, he can use his characters to talk about things like predestination or why we construct our own emotional prisons or the like. It's really smart writing, not the sort you usually see on network TV.

But that formula, that formula! I'm surprised they've been able to spin it out for two seasons (I think they've done exactly three formula-busting episodes, one of which felt like a formula episode for a long time). When do we all get tired of everyone being wrong for three acts and then it's a tumor? When do they run out of crazy diseases to exploit? When do they come to a crossroads where they have to choose between the vaguely soapy plots they've had lurking in the background and the weird medicine stories?

And why do I worry about this sort of show of all things? Theoretically, a show where there's a case per week, which is solved in each episode, should be able to run infinitely. Thirty years from now, a wizened Hugh Laurie should still be getting us to tune in. It's shows like Lost, which flirt with jumping the shark with each new plot revelation, that SHOULD be making me afeared.

And. . .yet. . .I KNOW I'm going to be disappointed by Lost someday. I know that it's going to fall apart under its own weight. I made my peace with that before I even started watching the show in earnest. But something like House, I can hold out my insane hope for, even though I know intellectually that Shore will get tired of the show, and the character will run out of clever insults, and the medical mysteries will peter out.

So let's look at season two. Season two deepened the characters (again, incrementally). It gave Sela Ward some fun scripts to sink her teeth in to. And it heightened the writing. Since the show was now a hit, Shore and his staff could play around with the characters, giving them monologues and smart discussions.

I'm not trying to say that House is TV perfection. I can't imagine watching a whole string on DVD. But it's a fun show, perfect for a weekly kicking back in the chair.

Next: I think I'm up to Lost. Plus, I should probably do a So Long, Farewell post to Everwood (sniff).


David Sims said...

I personally think House's appeal is in the secondary characters, and how House interacts with them. House himself will not change significantly--best shown this year when he sent Stacy away--but the ensemble, especially Cuddy, Wilson and Cameron, are so much fun to bounce off of House. Everyone in the show is so tremendously flawed, it's like they gravitate towards House because they feel like better people compared to him. Cameron gets overly attached to people, Wilson seems to have tremendous issues with women and an inferiority complex, Cuddy has withdrawn into her career, Chase is a suck-up who isn't well liked by anyone, and Foreman...well, he's probably the most normal, but they gave him a hell of a double episode this year.

I could talk about this show a lot longer than I probably need to. It's weird.

wcdixon said...

I never seemed to find time in life to watch House, though kept hearing good things - watched one through last fall and enjoyed it, but then didn't see it again until reading a great essay on the writing of a House episode...and then watched the last four eps of Season 2...and loved it. Formula, yes. But the characters, especially House, and smart clever dialogue - I was hooked.

So rented 1st season on DVD and watched most of it over past week. And know what you mean about it getting a little repetitive seeing them in a run like that, but no's made me unable to enjoy any other procedural since, like CSI - just because of that little extra they put into character.

I think Bones wants to try to be the same kind of animal, but just hasn't quite got there yet. Hopefully it will next year.