8. House Is A Character Study
House, MD was a procedural show on Fox that ran for eight seasons, a total of 177 episodes telling the story of the titular drug-addicted genius heading the Department of Diagnostic Medicine at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.
As a show greenlit to be a procedural (a medical take on shows like CSI), House follows the network formula. Each season, the show told twenty-odd stories about a brilliant, diverse team of experts, faced each week with an impossible puzzle that would be solved in the final ten minutes of the hour.
Typically, a procedural will relegate character-based plotwork to the background. If there’s a narrative arc, it’ll be a sketchy one like a recurring character or plot device, but nothing the show revolves around. The characters enter the show fully formed, and retain that shape throughout their run on the show. They can be replaced at the drop of a hat, because they’re just hooks to hang that procedural formula on.
House wanted to have its cake and eat it: to be a simple procedural and a character-based drama about Dr. Gregory House, the damaged, obnoxious virtuoso cribbed from Sherlock Holmes. To make that work, he had to become part of the show’s formula… which means he cannot change in any meaningful sense.
However, this is a man who wouldn’t last a week at any professionally run hospital, so the writing staff were tasked with coming up with plot-based red herrings to distract the audience: authority figures who would play mind games with him rather than fire, imprison or sue him; multiple episodes based around dreams and hallucinations; a rotating cast of doctors to put up with him and make him look smart; and the illusion that he could change, that he could become a better person, maybe even be happy.
House fooled people into thinking it was a clever, intricate character study for eight years. The truth is that Dr. Gregory House isn’t even a character, the same way Airwolf wasn’t a character and The X-Files weren’t characters: they were just the cool USP their show was named after.