When good TV goes bad: why House’s self-medication got the better of him
Hugh Laurie’s chronically ill sociopath paved the way for the ‘antihero savant’ genre. After season four, though, it was the viewers who suffered
When Dr Gregory House – played with sardonic relish by Hugh Laurie – first limped on to our screens in 2004, he was the fulcrum of a fresh, inventive medical drama. The sharp-tongued sociopath lodged into brains like a tapeworm (which actually happened in the pilot). The show’s simple formula made for a thrilling watch: a patient with bizarre symptoms – hearing colours, for example – seeks help. They are insulted by a macabre doctor with wit and verve until a genius deduction occurs in the last act and they are cured. House paved the way for procedural dramas with unlikable savant main characters, including Sherlock, Elementary, Psych and The Mentalist.
Left with a limp and in constant pain due to a misdiagnosis earlier in life, House only cares about two things: getting the diagnosis right, and where his next fix of pain-numbing drugs will come from. He cares not for the human beyond the mystery. At first it’s easy to forgive his cruelty because of his ability to say the things we all would like to (although he’s more than a little extreme in his narcissistic thoughts). Unfortunately, however, as the limits of plausibility are strained after the show’s season-four peak, it’s the viewer who wants to pop a handful of Vicodins to take the pain away.