Monday, June 04, 2007

House Cleaning - Salon Missed Some Spots


FOX Broadcasting Company: House

"Given the truly impressive tightrope walk that "House" pulls off on a weekly basis, I was shocked at how bad last week's season finale was." Heather Havrilesky, I Like to Watch, Salon.com

Everybody's complaining about the "House" season finale. Too tame. Too lame. Not enough game. Hello? Am I the only one who got it? The "House" finale was inspired counter-programming, an alternate view of the show's usual frenzied dynamic.

Think about it.

Most TV show season finales follow the time-honored formula of outrageous, shocking, over the top content.

But that's the "House" formula every week. So their finale gave us the opposite -- contained, ultraviolet subtlety.

The overblown rescue at sea at the top of the show was a set up. It reminded us there are absurd theatrics ... and then there's real drama. Most of all, of course, there's thought-provoking entertainment. Example: "House."

Before the second commercial, the episode had morphed into an examination less of the patient's maladies than of the doctors' psyches. Their complex motives. Their overwhelming sense of isolation.

The focus shifted from medical to personal confusion. From blood tests and CT scans to individual and collective introspection.

Quite a change from the typical manic "House" episode. Although the elements were still there -- the life-threatened patient, the bewildered, demanding spouse. The doctors' antisocial interaction, aggressive confrontation, fierce competition and raw, self-aggrandizing ambition. Not to mention the mile-a-minute medical missteps and mishaps.

Reviewer Havrilesky, regardless of her several goofs (more on that in a minute), made a bulls eye reference to "House" as a medical "CSI." The nonstop multiple cliffhangers provoke a similar roller coaster of emotional, visual, psychological and visceral responses.

I bet I'm not the only one who finds commercial interruptions a welcome respite from the show's frenetic pace. From the blood, guts, vomit and gore. The unrelenting angst, anger, frustration. The constant fear, pain, peril. The overall sensation of impending doom, loss, separation... death.

But. That's. The. Point.

"House" appeals to the Dark Side in all of us. We root for a megalomaniacal misogynist. An arrogant know-it-all. A sneak, a liar, a cheat. The villain. The vilifier. The angry lost soul.

On "House" the bad guys are the protagonists, the heroes. Okay, anti-heroes. It's pure genius.

And the good guys--righteous ethicist, warm nurturer, loving friend, friendly lover--are the antagonists. Cameron the conscience, Wilson the voice of reason, Cuddy the reality check. And Chase, straddling both sides, pretty but damaged.

They may represent the higher moral ground, but in the end, they're losers. We don't respect them. We want them to get a clue. Get stepped on. Smacked, even.

Cameron especially tries my patience. Beyond goody-goody, she's Jimminy Cricket on steroids. So one has to wonder, why did Dr. House hire her?

Ah, that's the show's homage to House's better self. House needs someone with a five-speed conscience to keep him in the game. He needs the yin and yang, the morality duels, the humanizing push-pulls ... and so do we. Together, Cameron, Cuddy and Wilson prevent the delicate balance of scoundrel-as-protagonist from tipping too far against House.
Much like Tony Soprano, House is the guy we love to hate, are dying to understand, fear but crave. He's unrelentingly cruel. Until he's not. Almost psychotically selfish. Until he isn't. A hunky scuzzbag with a cane and a Harley. The ultimate, irresistible bad boy.

Not the best boss, friend, or love interest in the world.

So it's no surprise House is unable to prevent Foreman, his most formidable asset--and opponent--from rejecting him by quitting. Caught in a human trap, House chews off his own paw by cutting the amiable but deceitful suck-up Chase loose. Inevitably, the steadfastly neurotic Cameron feels compelled to flee.

Maybe they're gone, maybe not. We've been given the summer to contemplate their value, not only to us, but to House. And his to them.

And then there's the guitar. A mystery wrapped in an enigma? No, just an artful metaphor--about courage and heart songs--which Havrilesky completely missed.

Wilson goads House about his dislike--dread, really--of change, his inability to grow, to join the human race as a real adult, using the guitar House has hung onto since Junior High as example. As X-ray. MRI. Scalpel.

Over the course of the hour, House gets it. The guitar is House. We get it. House is the guitar. Or, maybe, as we'll all get to ponder until next season: sometimes a guitar is just a guitar?

Regardless, how can Havrilesky or anyone else fail to understand that House bought the new guitar himself? He's apparently lost his entire team. Perhaps even his confidence, his mojo? So he takes the first step ... a shiny new instrument of self expression.

The icing on the cake of an episode called "Human Error" but could have been entitled, "Everybody Grow Up."

One last comment about the most obvious goof in Havrilesky's piece. She mistakenly places "House" in Seattle. Which tells me she (and Salon's editors!) are obsessed with another phantasmagoric medical drama.
Maybe we should start calling Dr. House 'McCranky'?

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Judy said...

Thanks.
Good observations.
"Jiminy Cricket?" Interesting.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, baby boomers! Check it out. You're NOT the greatest generation. Most of your parents pushed manual lawn mowers, washed and dried their dishes by hand, never heard of disposable diapers and disposals, etc., etc.

Yet many of them instilled values and manners into their children. They owe no apologies to future generations.

3:07 AM  

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