Last week it was announced that after eight seasons Hugh Laurie’s pill-popping brilliant misanthrope Dr. Gregory House would be voluntarily limping off to syndicated and cable rerun nirvana. (A nirvana, I must add, that the grump did his best to never achieve during this character’s lifetime. After all, a happy House was always the least appealing House.) And so this week’s House was the first one we could watch with that knowledge, and, inevitably, it changes how you’ll experience the rest of the season.
Initially conceived as a modern take on Sherlock Holmes complete with his own Dr. Watson – in Greg House’s case, Robert Sean Leonard’s marvelous Dr. Wilson – House was, especially in its early seasons, a weekly dual treat. It presented a baffling medical case-of-the-week, and gave House ample opportunity to exhibit impish arrogance — a sarcastic Socratic teaching method. His students consisted of a variety of young docs. Oh, and also on the House learning curve? Those of us at home, who followed the elementary-my-dear-sapheads logic House would use to diagnose patients.
No matter how uneven the series eventually became (for some, the season 7 finale where House drove a car into, yes, a house, was a jump-the-shark moment), Hugh Laurie has sustained a superb performance. Pre-House, this Brit was known primarily as a comic actor: a doofus in Black Adder; a quick wit as a duo act with Stephen Fry. It was this always-lurking sense of humor that redeemed House as created by producer David Shore. Without it, the character’s trenchant put-downs and bleak view of life would have rendered House a bleak antihero. That kind of thing might have flown on cable, but the show never would have become such a big, mass-appeal network hit had Laurie not brought his sly line readings and debonair air to the role.
At its best, House presented a vivid portrait of a complex friendship: The show was never better than when Laurie and Leonard were exchanging diagnoses, insults, and genuinely fond compliments. And Lisa Edelstein’s Cuddy, after too many early seasons relegated to stoic administrator, proved to be the only woman truly able to call House on his crap and engage with him believably on a romantic level.
But this week’s House was a demonstration why it’s just as well the series is wrapping up. Chase falling for a beautiful nun (okay, near-nun — hadn’t taken the vows yet), making sweet, sweet love to her and letting her snuggle against last week’s near-fatal wound on his chest? Puh-leeeze. House throwing soda balloons at Taub (a character that’s never become interesting)? House sneering out jokes about “immaculate contraception”? Heaven — and the remaining episodes — save us from more of this. (To be fair, last week’s installment, with guest star Jeffrey Wright as a formidable House interrogator, was a lot better.)
And that’s the way I’m going to be watching — or, some weeks, not watching — House until it finally wraps up. I want to remember it as a better show than it’s become, and I want to see how the series concludes.
House is going out with a smaller audience but is still a commercial success. (Hell, if it was on NBC right now, that network would crowing about it as a huge hit.) And there’s no doubt, unless they really screw it up, that Gregory House will enter the pantheon of great TV grumps… somewhere between Archie Bunker and Tony Soprano, don’t you think?
For more: Fox’s House will end this season