House Fatigue


As longtime readers already know, I cut the cable to my television a long time ago. Now the only shows we watch are the programs we can grab off the air (TVOntario), and stuff from DVDs and downloads. Basically, this has meant that Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, House and Mythbusters have been the only shows we’ve watched with any regularity.

Well, Battlestar Galactica has come to a close and, this past season, we’ve struck another show off our list. House no longer comprises part of our regular weekly viewing. And I’m hard pressed to say why.

Has the quality of the writing gone down? Well, not really. The show has been variable at times, but it still hit high notes in its sixth season and it never disgraced itself. Did the direction put us off? Far from it; the show remains as well put together as ever. Was it the actors? Nope. I could watch Hugh Laurie read the phone book, and Lisa Edelstein and Robert Sean Leonard remain admirable foils.

And I can’t even say that I was upset by any of the twists and turns in House’s character. The fact that he has been a morose son-of-a-(rhymes with witch), possibly due to the pain in his leg, possibly due to other more complicated problems, has long been a strong point of interest of this show. House is funny. House is immature. House is brilliant. House struggles with boredom. House is very much modelled after Sherlock Holmes, except that House’s pain, unlike Sherlock Holmes’ cocaine abuse, takes centre stage, and the big series-spanning plot is his attempt to overcome it.

Perhaps this is why we finally turned away from the program at the beginning of the seventh season. I thought the show was getting a little stale at the end of the third season, but the producers reinvigorated things with the reality-series spoof through season four and, more importantly, some real movement in House’s character in overcoming the pain. The two-part season finale to season four (House’s Head and Wilson’s Heart) are possibly the best two episodes that the show has ever produced. Having little to do with House’s search for a new team, he’s confronted with a horrible accident that he may have inadvertently precipitated, which has cost his best friend his lover. And at the end of all that, House has a decision to make: does he stay on the metaphorical bus and stay in his coma, or does he take the harder step of getting off that bus and getting on with a life where Wilson will hate him?

When House got off the bus, Erin said, “if they had ended the series there, it would have been perfect.” A decision has been made. House has gone to the light.

But Fox doesn’t cancel shows that are as popular as House, even if it may be dramatically ideal to do so. Witness what happened to The X-Files. But the fifth season was also very good, and culminated with House confronting his addiction to Vicodin, as well as his grief over Amber’s death. The series ends with him committing himself to a mental institution, and again that would have been an excellent way for the series to end — or, rather, the wonderful two-part premiere of season six where House finally conquered his addiction.

But from there, the series has just been dragging on. House’s problems have been mounting again (very realistically, I might add), until he’s confronted with a crisis at the end of season six that resolves itself in a commitment to a relationship with his love, Dr. Lisa Cuddy. And while season seven does have potential in dealing with the highs and lows of what’s bound to be a rather dysfunctional but heart-felt relationship, for some reason I’ve just lost interest.

Don’t get me wrong: I am glad that House has had several triumphs with his character over the course of the series, but one expects each catharsis to be followed up by resolution. The fact that it isn’t may be more true to life, but it starts to get wearing after a few times.

This may be a problem inherent in all long-term character-based shows. We’ve seen House grow and develop in remarkable ways, but if this were a novel, I think the denouement would have occurred a long time ago. House has made several choices to turn towards the positive side of his character, and each choice has been a triumph. But do this again and again, and I wonder if you have to look at other things to make things fresh.

Other shows that have lasted longer than House have succeeded by being ensemble shows, or radically altering their formulas to keep things fresh. Here, the sheer force of House’s personality (as well as the acting ability of Laurie himself) tends to eclipse the characters of those around him, strong though those characters and the actors that play them are, and format changes for House seem unlikely. So, I’ve decided to leave while the show is still good, and take with me the memories that the series has given me so far.

I wonder how many others are thinking the same thing.

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