100 Pilots in 100 Days: House, M.D.

When it was originally on: 2004-2012

Original network: FOX

Where you can stream it now: Amazon Prime, or NBC.com w/cable authentication

Had I seen it before: Nope.

What IMDb says: An antisocial maverick doctor who specializes in diagnostic medicine does whatever it takes to solve puzzling cases that come his way using his crack team of doctors and his wits.

Why I picked it: I When putting The List together, I always like to include some old standbys as well as some fresh original ideas. House, M.D. is a medical drama, and one of the most successful hospital dramas of its time. I’m always intrigued by how shows in these tried-and-true genres find ways to stand out from the pack, and House most certainly did. Okay, YES it did get it’s start on Fox during the peak years of American Idol which certainly didn’t hurt, but I’ll be interested to see what else the show does to make itself different from other hospital dramas.

It’s also no coincidence that I decided to tackle the pilot for House the day after I reviewed the Cinemax historical hospital drama, The Knick. In that review, I lamented the trope of “asshole-who-we-have-to-tolerate-because-he’s-a-genius” and it crossed my mind that there was another shockingly similar character on The List. Seeing how a Big 4 network approached this type of character and show vs. how Cinemax approached it should be interesting.

What I liked: The pilot does a fairly good job of explaining the technical aspects of its story to the audience. In many ways, it’s structured more like a murder mystery procedural, with several different medical afflictions serving as suspects and the doctors having to dive into those different possibilities one by one until they crack the case.

But in a murder mystery, it’s relatively easy for audiences to come up with their own theories about which characters would have a motive and means to kill. Writers can put tiny hints here and there without spelling everything all the way out, and audiences can have fun making their own guesses. But audiences don’t have the medical knowledge to come up with their own theories about what’s killing our patient of the week. They NEED the doctors in the show to explain it as we go, and House, M.D. Does this quite nicely. By having different doctors arguing on behalf of different culprits, I could keep up with the story without feeling like the show was talking down to me.

Another big strength of House, M.D. (and what largely makes the pilot work better than The Knick did for me) is the way it approaches the doctors who aren’t Dr. House. A doctor who’s fascinated by the science of medicine but hates interacting with patients is an interesting character. But so is a doctor who graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School that got his job because he knows how to break into people’s houses. So is the pretty white girl who agrees to help that guy break into a house to help diagnose a patient. A doctor who would lie and say that a complete stranger is his cousin just to get her better medical care? Also incredibly interesting! So many people here are making choices that other people in their situations wouldn’t make, not just House.

I also love how this one establishes House’s relationship with Melanie Landon, who represents the bureaucracy of this hospital. This is partly important because we need an answer to the question “but wouldn’t they have just fired him by now?” But also important because we need ongoing conflict in addition to episodic conflict. Sometimes procedurals leave me on too much of a “happily ever after” note to make me pine for the next episode, but this one gave me enough conflict between House and all the other personalities of this hospital that I could easily see myself watching more.

What I didn’t like: Compared to all the other doctor characters, Dr. Chase feels pretty flat. At least he’s pretty though. But also flat. With most of the other characters, I can see how their presence in this hospital makes will whole show more interesting for years to come. With Dr. Chase… I see a pretty face. He’s not given an interesting backstory or any calling card like the “street smart doctor” or “the pretty female doctor who insist on working hard in spite of her prettiness.” He’s just there.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes and no.  I can definitely understand why House, M.D. was the success it was, and I could definitely see it working well as the sort of background noise show that is interesting and engaging while still allowing me to screw around on my phone while I’m watching. But it’s not a show I feel I need to see every episode of, and not a show I feel

3 thoughts on “100 Pilots in 100 Days: House, M.D.

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