question of the day: What is the appeal of Dr. Gregory House?

I learned an astonishing thing recently: the most popular TV show on Planet Earth right now is House,

watched by 82 million people last year in 66 countries, edg[ing] out “CSI” and “Desperate Housewives” to get the top spot, according to Eurodata TV Worldwide.

That’s from an article by Vanessa Richmond at AlterNet, wherein she ponders the character’s charms… or lack thereof:

Gregory House is a cantankerous, antisocial misfit riddled with imperfections – physical and otherwise – who is nonetheless successful and loved. Wouldn’t you like to be able to get away with that?

And wouldn’t you like to feel that no matter what ails you, no matter how rare, fatal, mysterious, or terrifying – whether it’s your fault or not – someone will save you? That someone will appear, and with calm, methodical, playful, god-like omnipotence, see inside your body and mind, and heal any ill?

And so, Richmond concludes:

more than anyone right now, the character of Gregory House (played by Hugh Laurie) offers the fantasy of curing, or at least soothing, the various ills du jour that ail us.

Richmond suggest there’s more going on, too, from House as a symbol of rebellion against our culture’s obsession with physical perfection (“He’s appropriately wrinkled for his age, rumpled and seemingly indifferent. Oh yeah, and he walks with a limp.”) to the show succeeding because it offers a fantasy of good health care (“It’s worth pointing out that in this age when not everyone enjoys health care, simply putting a hospital on screen is enough to make audiences salivate.”)

What do you think? What is the appeal of Dr. Gregory House?

I started watching House when it was new, because I’m a huge fan of Hugh Laurie, but I gave it up when it started feeling repetitious — sure, House was a cranky but brilliant old fart, but the show didn’t seem to know what to do with him after that. I’m surprised enough that it’s still on the air, actually, never mind the most watched show around the world.

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Tue, Jan 12, 2010 10:27am

House is rock ‘n’ roll. He’s worn in, colors outside the lines (socially and professionally speaking) and is brilliant.

You know how hipsters try to be as cool as the veteran punk? It’s impossible, right? House is the Iggy Pop of diagnostics…the Lenny Bruce of medicine. He’s been there and done that, which, as a patient, I’d appreciate more than someone who sugar-coats everything. Yeah, I’d take the genius asshole over the cautious type any day.

Err, also, any character modeled on Sherlock Holmes
can’t be a total loss. And hey, wasn’t Laurie awesome on Blackadder?

Michael Mirasol
Tue, Jan 12, 2010 10:36am

Vanessa Richmond is pretty spot on. I don’t watch TV shows anymore (except for news and sports). My wife is the one who loves the show, and the moment I watched with her, I was sucked in.

Dr. House is an asshole, but the show revealed why he became that way, and made us care for him. But essentially, even though he doesn’t care what you think or how you feel, in the end he will do everything to fight for your life and physical well-being.

After 4 season of watching it, I’ve always felt that if I were struck by some unknown ailment, I hope there’s a Dr. House in the building. He’s strangely comforting.

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 10:39am

I used to love House too but yeah it did become too predictable so I quit it.

Remember when Baywatch was the world’s most watched show? Maybe people’s tastes are improving!

Hugh Laurie is fantastic in the role and it’s probably something to do with the fact that women want to fix him and men want to get away with the things he says and does.

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 10:48am

I’d like to get away with the things he says and does!

C David Dent
Tue, Jan 12, 2010 10:58am

This is, of course, total conjecture, but House represents our country. The Government. Sure it has been beaten up, bruised, abused even, but it maintains its integrity and morals despite being intolerable by everyone except those that really need its help. Then, it is the answer to their prayers. And while in the end everyone, even its detractors, can say it is still the best at what it does, nobody can argue that it is pleasant while doing it.

It is deeply flawed, and in some ways broken irreparably but it is still the best and nobody would want anything less.

This resonates with what we perceive as what we need.

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 11:32am

Lisa got it: people like House because he gets away with being an asshole, combined with his ability to cure any disease. It’s double-escapism.

Back in the Real World(tm), we have to be nice to everybody. And when we go to the doctor, he or she hasn’t got the first clue what’s wrong with us, and wants to try 43 different things, all of which are fail. Eventually, he decides on #44, which makes us feel a little bit better but doesn’t address cause and introduces some other symptom that we don’t like.

So, a doctor that both acts the way we want to act, and yet can cure any disease? Yeah.

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 11:41am

I love House as a programme, but don’t have any particular pull towards House himself and I’m just as interested in Wilson and 13 and Chase and the rest of them as I am in him. I do agree that sometimes things get a little repetitive but, wow! the last episode of Season 5 was completely and utterly brillaint (fantastic twist) and Season 6 is shaping up to be a good one.

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 2:34pm

House is the closest thing I have to a hero. When I grow up I hope I’ll be half as cool as House.

Movies and TV shows always struggle to create convincingly smart characters. House, however, is damned convincing.

And his genius gives him power. He gets to flaunt any rule he pleases. If he thinks someone is stupid he calls them an idiot. He cheerfully runs roughshod over everyone’s emotions. Most of the people he meets openly despise him. And yet, they all take his abuse, because they know that when blood starts gushing out of their eyeballs he’s the one who will fix them.

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 3:03pm

I love the show but i do agree that at times, it gets repititive. Sure they try and mix it up in the end, sometimes the patient dies and there’s nothing anyone can do, sometimes another doctor has the epiphany and sometimes House is wrong (very rarely though).

I do wish they’d move the story forward especially House’s relationship with Cuddy. After teasing us for 5 years, they finally spend the night together and it turns out it was just one of House’s drug feuled delusions.

I don’t even think Niles and Daphne in Frasier took this long to get together.
I hope it happens soon. ;)

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 10:58pm

I find fault with the House-as-hero concept. Yes, it might be fun to be able to get away with his blatant disregard for rules, reasonable or otherwise, due to his extraordinary mind and medical instincts.

But the character of House is a nasty, emotionally stunted, self-centered addict who cares almost nothing for his patients overal well-being, but is primarily interested in a challenge.

He’s a deeply complex character, no doubt, but still a really unpleasant, solipsistic guy. And although he’s obviously a genius, he has shown a repeated and blatant disregard for the Hippocratic oath, to the point of endangering his patients lives and often permenantly injuring them. He is often more interested in persuing mind games with his staff than any kind of patient care, and flaunts his disdain for his own patients.

So indeed, what’s the appeal? In terms of the combination of character as written and actor as portraying, there has rarely – if ever – been such an extraordinary match. In the hands of a lesser actor (or really, nearly any other actor at all), “House” would have crashed and burned after one season. Laurie just is THAT talented. He brings a sort of sympathy to his character that is so subtle as to be nearly undetecable, but it is there nonetheless.

And I don’t think all of his appeal can be chalked up to “he’s a total renegade badass”. Yes, the rebel asshole who bucks the system and who’s right more often than wrong has his charms. But for me, I find that there’s a little part of me thinking that maybe I could be the friend or patient who might bring out more of his human side.

That’s the role that Wilson plays – House’s humanity and humility, and the one person he might actually care for. I think we identify with Wilson. We want to be the exception to the rule of disdain from the crazy-ass genius; the one person this powerful brilliant jerk might actually have at least a grudging respect for, and affection for.

Not that I’m projecting or anything :)

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 11:02pm

Oy with the typos already. Please excuse my horrific spelling.

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 11:48pm

it’s kind of funny… my british friends are all mad for House, while we’re busy grabbing copies of MI5 (or “Spooks” as it’s called there) and all the other brit stuff we can lay hands on. it’s also kind of odd because they’re all mad for an american dramatic character, played by a british comedic actor. i agree that i did like the show the first two seasons but got kind of weary in the third, and haven’t watched the 4th and fifth seasons… though i caught a glimpse of House and he had a sort of shaved head, recovering addict look to him… and things need to move forward, please, in some fashion or other.

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 3:33am

Off topic, but how good was that first series of Spooks?

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 8:03am

I like house quite a bit, though the first two seasons, when the concept and characters were fresh, are my favorites. For my, the appeal was in the way house broke to mold for doctor shows. Having worked in hospitals for much of my career as an OT, I generally can’t stand doctor shows because they always screw up even the most elementary details, and because they always have these doctor hero’s that spend, literally, hours and hours of time with all their patients and are tortured – tortured I tell you! – that they can’t personally set to right every evil that crosses their path. Anyone who’s worked in health care for five minutes knows what a crock this is. Most doctors are assholes in one way or another. House at least reflects this reality in a refreshing and humorous way.

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 12:07pm

Whatever the appeal of House, I’m glad of it, since I have a friend who works on the show.

I only see it intermittently — it’s always intriguing, and I rather like seeing a problem-solving procedural involving living people instead of dead ones (cf. CSI: Everywhere, NCIS, Bones, etc.). And yes, I like the trope of the cranky genius with a heart of gold buried somewhere deep within, where he’ll never admit to its presence. :-)

Iwa Iniki
Iwa Iniki
Wed, Jan 13, 2010 1:50pm

I am surprised that you are surprised that “House” is still on the air. Your taste is all in your mouth.

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 7:49pm

From Day 1, I was the most avid House fan there could ever be. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of following the lead of TPTB. They spent 2 years setting up the subtle romance between House & Cameron. Like so many other fans, I got emotionally invested, then they dumped it cold. There’s a ton of us who felt totally betrayed — and still do. Especially since there are those in control like Katie Jacobs who seems to relish & delight in misleading fans (a/k/a “suckers”). I’ve said on more than one occasion that I’d watch Hugh Laurie reading a phone book. I still think that. But watching the travesty the show has become (& several of the obnoxious characters they chose to keep instead of Jennifer Morrison) — Nope, can’t do that. Watching is way more aggravating than it is pleasant to watch Hugh’s always brilliant performances.

I miss the old House so much . . . .

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Thu, Jan 14, 2010 3:38am

NLP, House and Cameron never would have worked as a romantic pair, not without transforming Cameron into the most annoying variant of a Mary Sue, and killing the last remnants of the integrity she fought to retain.

What you miss is not “the old House.” It’s an imaginary House that existed only inside your own head (and perhaps the heads of certain other folks who hang out on the show’s message boards only so they can constantly complain whenever their “favorite” show takes the slightest unexpected turn).

Anne-Kari hit the nail squarely on the head. House succeeds because of Hugh Laurie (and the other skilled actors as well, but their skills would be insufficient to save the show from itself if they did not have such a rare talent bringing such depths of subtlety to that crucial lead role). The only way to truly appreciate the masterpiece his performance represents is to give up all preconceived notions about what you think “should” happen as the show’s overall story arc unfolds.