House is a Holmes

The next two episodes of TV Tuesday concern two shows that are easily in my Fave Five and sure contenders for Top Three. As I mentioned in the first post, there are two that really vie for the top slot, and one that would probably win. This episode is about that show.

This episode is about House, M.D.

As I’ve mentioned before, I watch television for stories that engage me, but more than that I watch television for the characters. This is one place where television shows—especially long-running shows—are superior to movies. A well-drawn character on a television series has a longer “life span” than any movie character can. To approach the life time of a TV character’s life, even for just a single season, requires something like the Harry Potter movies (eight movies amounting to almost 20 hours).

Compare that to, say, the 100 hours you can spend with the characters of M*A*S*H. Or the 130 hours you can spend with Dr. Greg House. (or Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise).

The math:
260 episodes of M*A*S*H times 23 min/episode;
177 episodes of House times 44 min/episode;
178 episodes of Star Trek:TNG time 44 min/episode.

If you believe in the characters, which fiction asks you to do, you end up spending a lot of time with these virtual people. They become people you know, sometimes very well. In the process, they become people you care about, and that’s why we tune in each week.

At least that is how it works for me. Some people like shows with characters they can’t possibly actually like, and I’ve always wondered a bit at why, but that’s really just a matter of taste. Different people like different things. And there is one reason I can appreciate. Sometimes the writing, or the context of a show, is so interesting that you watch regardless of the characters’ character. For me, Seinfeld was such a show. I hated those people, but the writing was awesome!

So here’s the thing about House, M.D. I have never identified so much with a series fictional character so much as I do Greg House. I’ve liked fictional characters so much I wished they were real people I knew as friends.  I’ve wanted to be certain fictional characters. (Who hasn’t wanted to be Superman or Wonder Woman or someone cool from our stories?)  But I’ve never seen myself so much in a series character as I do Greg House.

I’m not saying I’m anything like as brilliant—but also nothing like as fucked up (or addicted to pain pills)—as Greg House, but I recognize and identify with his misanthropy and alienation. I totally get him.

It’s no coincidence that another re-occurring fictional character I’ve found myself identifying with is Sherlock Holmes, and as most House fans know, Greg House is a deliberate analog of the great detective. The show has been filled with allusions to the parallel (the canonical example: Greg House’s street address is 221, and he lives in apartment “B”).

What I see in Holmes (and, again, I make no claim to being anything like him) is his need for mental challenge and his focus on relevant versus irrelevant knowledge (traits also shared by Greg House). In the first Holmes novel, Watson has just met Holmes and is trying to figure him out. He’s astonished that Holmes doesn’t know about the solar system, but is expert in chemistry, law, crime and poisons. Sherlock explains that the mind is an attic and only has so much room. He doesn’t fill his attic with knowledge of no use to his work. Likewise I ignore a lot of the stuff everyone knows to make room for the esoteric stuff I love.

Beyond that, the show is just plain excellent (and fun). There have been some deep and thoughtful plot conundrums over the years. One of my favorites involves a man with a disease that disabled the normal social filters causing him to voice any and all thoughts that cross his mind. An element of the plot involves his voicing of cruel thoughts regarding his wife and child. The thoughts did not have a mean intent—he truly loved his family—but they were harsh assessments of personal aspects normally  never spoken. (Metaphorically speaking, “Yes, you do look fat in those pants.”)

We’ve all had such thoughts. Or do we? The episode suggests that some people’s minds truly don’t work like that. I confess: mine definitely does. But I know people who at least seem to have an entirely positive thought process. They seem not only to see the glass as half-full, but as containing wonderful, delicious water. I confess this too: I am a little jealous of them. It must be nice to never have your thoughts go dark places. It must be nice to always think the best of people. The talent completely escapes me.

So I’m a big fan on both the show and its main character. Then, for the first seven seasons, the show had another element that, on its own, would have attracted me.

And “attracted” is the operative term here, since we’re talking about Dr. Lisa Cuddy (played by Lisa Edelstein). There are crushes that come and go, but there are those that abide. (I may have a thing for fictional female medical people. My other abiding crush is on Margaret Houlihan (played by Loretta Swit), from M*A*S*H.)

In general, I like people who are educated, intelligent and capable. If they are attractive women (especially if they have dark hair, which I favor) then I”m really interested. And Doctor Cuddy has an important characteristic: she’s single, so I can dream dreams!

Double dream! As far as I know, Lisa Edelstein… also single! (And, incidentally, on some of the DVDs, the “Valley Girl” out-takes she’s done with Jennifer Morrison (Dr. Cameron) are just a hoot! For that matter, hearing Englishman Hugh Laurie revert to his native British after mainly knowing him as House is just plain weird!)

And now I’m going to borrow a page from follow blogger palisadespete (go check out his blog; it’s tons of fun) and present:

10 Ways House is Holmes

  1. A house is a home.  House is a Holmes.
  2. Conan Doyle based Holmes on a real doctor, Dr. Joseph Bell. House is a doctor. In a sense, he’s more  Holmes than Holmes! (In one episode he uses a book written by Dr. Bell.)
  3. Holmes’ friend and companion: Dr. John Watson. House’s friend and companion: Dr. James Wilson.
  4. Both can deduce a great deal just by looking at a person. Both rely on deductive reasoning and psychology.
  5. Holmes uses cocaine to escape boredom. House uses Vicodin to escape pain and boredom.
  6. Holmes fights deadly crimes. House fights deadly diseases. Both are seen as a last resort when normal courses fail.
  7. Both tend to be arrogant, viewing humility as a lie. Both are aloof to others except their close friend, Watson/Wilson. Both call others by their last name (even Wilson/Watson).
  8. Holmes reads “agony” columns in the paper. House watches soap operas.
  9. Both are difficult to engage—bored and lazy—unless challenged.
  10. Holmes plays the violin. House plays guitar and piano and harmonica.

The parallel is clearly not accidental!

And throughout its run, the creators have thrown in other references. I’ve already mentioned that both characters share the address 221-B. At first, as in the picture above, the street address appears to be 221B. Later that (second) season, it changes to 221, and we learn that House lives in apartment “B”.

Another important reference comes from the first episode. The patient’s name is Rebecca Adler (played by Robin Tunny, now staring in The Mentalist).

In the first Sherlock Holmes short story, A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes faces—and loses out to—a villain named Irene Adler. She becomes, ever after, the “one that got away.”

The title sequence in nearly every episode of House shows a brain scan from that first episode, and you can see that it’s labeled, “Adler.” (I’ve enhanced the photo to make the name stand out. And added a big yellow arrow as well.)

There is also an excellent episode (season two finale) where House is shot by a man credited as Moriarty. And the series finale rather resembles the finale of the Holmes canon. Spoiler: In both cases, the star of the series apparently dies.

(Highlight the missing text to reveal.)

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

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