Home > Media, Television > Shows That Irk Me (But I Watch Anyway): House

Shows That Irk Me (But I Watch Anyway): House

I watch a lot of TV.  I love reading, and do quite a bit of it as well, but TV has really taken a hold of me. Now before everyone is up in arms about the fact that TV rots the brain, let me point out that I don’t watch TV to tune out and stop thinking.  If anything, most of the TV I like is the kind that gets me thinking that much more.  Sure, it’s no substitute for a good book, but it’s a great medium with a lot to contribute.

That said, TV seems to have one negative quality that I just can’t get past: no matter how much I love a show, there is still some part of it that irks me to no end.  I watch the shows anyway, but sometimes can do little else but shake my head at the latest minor annoyance.  So, to kick off the first entry in my “Shows That Irk Me (But I Watch Anyway)” series, I’ll begin with House.

There, I said it.  House irks me to no end, sometimes.  This is probably one of my most major complaints.

Why are you talking down to me?

In his bestselling book Everything Bad Is Good for You, Steven Johnson uses the term “flashing arrows” to describe “a kind of narrative signpost, planted conveniently to help the audience keep track of what’s going on” (73).  He goes on to further point out that “flashing arrows have grown [. . .] scarce” in recent television (74).  What Johnson argues is that, in general, TV doesn’t play down to the viewer anymore.  Multiple plots and the lack of flashing arrows leave viewers to draw their own conclusions and trust that the writers are leading them the right way. I’ll spare you the further details of what Johnson’s ideas about television, but I’ll use his particular term quite a bit in the discussion of House. To wit:

This clip is what irks me about House.

House is an intelligent show.  Its drama tends to be well-conceived, even if it is occasionally a bit on the ludicrous side.  The show has unique ailments and multiple threading (thank you, Steven Johnson) that make the show a task to follow.  As is a more common trend with television of late, there is an overarching back story to each character that is revealed little by little.  The sum of these parts is a show that is well-written with characters that—for the most part—feel real and interesting.

Then the writers add in scenes like the one above, and they do it frequently.  It seems as though in every episode the viewer is condescended to about what, exactly, these illnesses are.  Now, I’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment: some of these diseases are quite rare, and as such it’s reasonable to assume that we’d like some explanation.  But that doesn’t forgive the fact that the writers often add in these flashing arrows poorly.  It would be one thing if the writers script a scene where a doctor explains to a confused patient what just happened.  A bit hackneyed, perhaps, but also significantly more believable.

Instead, the team of doctors is frequently assembled in House’s antechamber performing a differential, during which time one doctor will explain to the rest what a certain illness is.  Didn’t they all go to medical school?  Not to mention House wouldn’t choose an incompetent practitioner for his team.  It’s hard for me to swallow the fact that Taub needs Foreman to explain to him what a myopathy is.

Medical Dramas are ubiquitous on television.  By now, I feel as though the average viewer can connect most of the dots on what a particular ailment is.  Flashing arrows are rare in most television shows, which is probably why it bothers me so much that House seems to rely on them so heavily.

People Don’t Change (Or Do They?)

This is another part of House that bothers me a bit.  House’s belief that nobody ever changes and everybody lies have become central tenets of the show.  Most of the drama in some way plays into this idea: Taub repeatedly cheats, Cameron falls for people she can’t fix and Foreman keeps alienating those around him to further his career.  Not to mention Cuddy and House will always have some kind of sexual tension, but never be able to reconcile it.

So if people not changing is so central to the plot, why is it that the most recent plot developments have centered around House changing?

I’ll play the devil’s advocate again: sure, most of the characters don’t change, but the impact of House changing is what makes the new twists in the drama so interesting.  The fact that House’s beliefs are so central to the show and yet those are the the ones being challenged–by House, no less–is what creates even more dramatic impact.

This argument is good enough.  But it’s outweighed by the fact that none of the other characters ever seem to learn anything from the lessons around them.  Cuddy even makes the mistake of avoiding a potentially great life with someone who isn’t emotionally damaged to run back to House.

If there’s one lesson I keep on learning from House, it’s that people never change.  And if that’s the case, then the end of the latest season seems to fly in the face of everything.  Cuddy and House kiss, ostensibly because House is confronting his demons and, finally, at a point where he might be able to commit to Cuddy.

What this means for the show is likely going to be one of two things: House and Cuddy work out and House recovers from his addiction, or House relapses. Seeing as the show seems to be heading toward Huddy being a more permanent fixture, I’m not holding much hope for the show sticking to its “nobody changes” guns.

Which is why the drama in House causes me some concern.  The lessons always go back to House being right, and House never views humanity favorably.  Yet here we are, looking at Huddy working because House, of all people, changed while everybody else remains a flat fixture in House’s world.

Categories: Media, Television
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