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Hear Us Out: Gregory House Was TV's Last Great Doctor

Inspired by Sherlock Holmes, the irascible TV doctor lured us in, slapped us around, and healed our souls. On the show's 15th anniversary, we hail TV's abrasive medical antihero.

by | November 15, 2019 | Comments

HOUSE, Hugh Laurie, (Season 3), 2004-, photo: Andrew Macpherson / TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection
(Photo by Andrew Macpherson / TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection)

“Everybody lies.” As simple a statement as those two words are, they form the credo of Gregory House, the curmudgeonly antihero doctor who made Hugh Laurie a household name and central figure in House, Fox’s highly successful medical procedural that ran from 2004 to 2012.

House was not a likable guy. And yet, as much as the genius physician went out of his way to break rules, insult colleagues, put patients in danger, and feed into his own deeply troubled psyche — while masking his personal problems with a candy-popping Vicodin habit — there was an addictive quality in watching the man work. It’s been 15 years since the show’s premiere changed the face of medical dramas. Sure, the genre has continued to thrive on the small screen, but Gregory House MD was truly TV’s last great doctor.

His disruptive, manipulative nature intrigued us. He lured us in by flouting convention and putting his position and that of his colleagues in jeopardy, until finally that moment of epiphany promised by every episode locked us in and made us embrace this misunderstood medical madman.

It’s common knowledge that Dr. House was inspired, in part, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Aside from the similarities in their last names and addresses — House lived at 221B which was a direct shout-out to Holmes’ residence on Baker Street — both men carried with them a distaste for the general public. Instead, they were driven by investigative motivations. Holmes was a detective out to solve the most dastardly bizarre crimes; House was a doctor by label, but at the character’s core, he was a medical detective. The criminals he fought were every crazy infectious disease that crossed his path.

HOUSE, Hugh Laurie, ' Both Sides Now ', (Season 5, episode 524, May 11, 2009), 2005-,. Photo: Larry Watson / © FOX / courtesy everett collection
(Photo by Larry Watson / © FOX / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Tapping into the Sherlock Holmes mythos was a winning formula for show creator David Shore. Not only does the dynamic between the chaotic internal workings of the famous detective provide engaging entertainment when met with his external brilliance, Sherlock is an iconic figure who continues to be explored in a variety of television programs to this day — from BBC’s cutting-edge Sherlock to CBS’s detective procedural Elementary.

But what if Sherlock Holmes worked in the medical field, a realm where a calming bedside manner and unrequited trust dictate an unspoken, yet expected, relationship between the doctor and the patient? House explored the answer to that question for eight seasons, and the deeper we dug into Gregory’s complex character story, the more audiences stayed on the hook.

As much as we loved to watch Dr. House exercise his biting wit and insulting personality to each and every person whose path he crossed, however, a glimpse of the misunderstood hero would randomly shine through his harsh exterior. His patients knew they were in good hands. House saw through the dishonesty of both the people he saved and the corporate overlords he served, while always searching for the ultimate truth buried inside every life-threatening riddle he and his team encountered.

HOUSE, Jesse Spencer, Jennifer Morrison, Omar Epps, Hugh Laurie, 'Meaning', (Season 3, airing Sept. 5, 2006), 2004-, photo: Michael Becker / TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection
(Photo by Michael Becker / TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Of course, the man would have been nothing without the core group of physicians he turned to on a regular basis for support. From neurologist Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) and intensive care physician Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) to immunologist Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and Olivia Wilde‘s rebellious Thirteen, House regularly turned to others for assistance in solving the mysterious problem of the week. And that just adds to the character’s allure. Because as much as his genius would regularly astound his colleagues and viewers alike, there was a very real theme of “fail until you succeed” that they faced on a daily basis.

Dr. House was an antihero, but at the end of the day, he was still a hero. His goal was to fix the disease, not the patient. But when you add in the regular bits of failure that would enter into his professional and personal life — the ongoing will they/won’t they between him and Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), for example — added a welcome layer of humanity to him. The average viewer may dream of being on the same intellectual playing field as the man, but seeing the faults in the star doctor suddenly gave us all someone we could relate to, as well.

Dr. Gregory House didn’t always get it right. The show had its fair share of episodes where, by the end, a patient’s life was lost. As much as the medical procedural formula can be wrought with fairy-tale components that reassure viewers that everything will be all right, House always gave us a little wake-up call here and there, reminding us that fairy tales don’t belong in the operating room.

HOUSE, Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison, Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Jesse Spencer, Lisa Edelstein, (Season 3), 2004-, photo: Andrew Macpherson / TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection
(Photo by Andrew Macpherson / TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection)

It’s been seven years since the program ended, and since then, a few networks have tried to fill the void Dr. House left. Some have come close, too. Take The Good Doctor, for instance: ABC’s heartwarming medical drama was created by House’s David Shore. The new drama, which stars Freddie Highmore as a doctor with autism, has achieved a fair share of success and was even called the inverted version of House by The AV Club’s Alex McLevy.

The era of the TV antihero has all but come and gone. The narrative pendulum has swung back into a territory ripe with feel-good stories. And as popular as the medical procedural genre continues to be, with the long-running soap opera drama of Grey’s Anatomy, for one, providing small-screen comfort food to the masses, there’s a wonder if another Dr. House will ever grace our screens again.

Whatever misunderstood genius medical practitioner grabs our attention next will have some big shoes to fill, however. House the most popular TV doctor in the world, and Hugh Laurie was named the most-watched man on television by the Guinness Book of World Records. He may have been inspired by Sherlock Holmes, but Dr. Gregory House was one in a million.

House is available to stream with an Amazon Prime subscription or to rent or own on FandangoNOW, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and Microsoft Store.

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