And so a House will be razed. After eight seasons, Hugh Laurie’s brilliant pill-popping misanthrope Dr. Gregory House is voluntarily limping off to syndication and cable-rerun nirvana. A nirvana, I must add, that the grump did his best never to achieve during the character’s lifetime. After all, a happy House was always the least appealing House.
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 (I’ll single out my two favorites: Jennifer Morrison’s meek-but-willful Cameron and Olivia Wilde’s willful-but-moody ”Thirteen.”) Oh, and also in the House classroom? 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), Laurie sustained a superb performance. Pre-House, this Brit was known primarily as a comic actor — a doofus in Blackadder, a quick wit as a duo act with Stephen Fry. It was this always-lurking sense of humor that redeemed House as created by exec producer David Shore. Without it, the character’s trenchant put-downs and bleak view of life would have rendered House a morose 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.
House paved the way for lesser grouches (Tim Roth’s intriguing Lie to Me never quite clicked with viewers) and indirectly helped bring the show’s origins full circle to the Sherlock Holmes revival that’s made Benedict Cumberbatch a Stateside cult favorite.
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 on a romantic level.
House is going out with a smaller audience, but remains a commercial success. (Hell, if it were on NBC right now, that network would be crowing about it as a huge hit.) And there’s no doubt that Gregory House enters the pantheon of great TV grumps…somewhere between Archie Bunker and Tony Soprano, don’t you think?