Fond farewell to 'House'

Hugh Laurie (left) and his dying best friend, played by Robert Sean Leonard, go on a road trip in the series finale.
Hugh Laurie (left) and his dying best friend, played by Robert Sean Leonard, go on a road trip in the series finale.
Posted: May 22, 2012

HOUSE. 8 and 9 p.m. Monday, Fox 29.

I DISCOVERED MY mother’s addiction to Fox’s “House” when she was dying of cancer.

An insatiable reader her whole life, she’d never had much use for television, making a pointed exception for “Lost,” which she watched until all the time shifts in the fifth season took its toll on her chemo-fogged brain.

So when I started spending as much time as I could with her in the final 14 months of her life, I was surprised to find she’d added USA’s back-to-back “House” reruns to her routine.

A less-than-satisfied medical consumer — she wanted to recover, her doctors knew it wasn’t going to happen — she seemed an unlikely fan of the Vicodin-dependent Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), whose treatment of patients made her taciturn oncologist look like “Dr. Oz.”

Watching with her, though, I started to get it. Not only were the goings-on on “House” far removed from the world of everyday medicine, where cancers like hers are considered routine and insurance forms may get more scrutiny than the patients, but House and his ever-changing posse of minions were consumed with solving the puzzles presented by disease, even if it meant breaking in to people’s homes to search for clues.

A crossword fanatic who’d once been premed, she loved the show’s mysteries and House’s insistence on solving them, even if his patients nearly died in the process. She wasn’t looking for a doctor who’d hold her hand. Reasonably or not, she wanted one who wasn’t going to give up before she did.

As “House” wraps up its eighth and final season tonight at 9 (preceded by an hourlong retrospective), it would be hard to argue that Fox, or the show’s producers (who include Laurie), are giving up too soon. Eight years is a long time for any TV show, especially one with a central character as outrageous as House, who’s done time in a mental institution and in prison (to which he appeared to returning at the end of last week’s episode), battled chronic pain and drug addiction and worked overtime to alienate everyone who’s ever loved him, including his dying best friend, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).

All to have his show dismissed by some as “formulaic.”

Which it is, of course.

Here’s how I described the formula in 2006:

“House is presented with impossible case, House declares solution to case to be entirely possible and orders treatment that nearly kills the patient. Rinse, repeat until patient is cured, but usually only after having been caught in an untruth that reinforces House’s motto: ‘Everybody lies.’ ”

What’s cool about that template isn’t just that the “House” writers never seem to run out of diseases — the show’s a how-to manual for hypochondriacs — but that like any other prescribed form, be it sonnet or martini recipe, it’s there to provide a springboard for creativity, not a deterrent.

The real constant on “House” has been House himself: Brilliant, intractable and full of rage, he’s a character so indelible it’s hard to remember that Laurie, who’ll soon be reunited with former comedy partner Stephen Fry in an animated version of “The Canterville Ghost,” was once known almost exclusively for being funny. (And British.)

I haven’t seen the finale, but if anyone’s healed in it, I wouldn’t expect it to be House.

“You watch the show because you like the character,” said “House” creator David Shore in a 2008 interview, noting that Laurie had said “that movies are about a lead character changing while everybody around them stays the same and TV’s kind of the opposite … I don’t want to change that character dramatically, drastically. I like this character.”

I do, too. And whatever good night he may heading into, I’m not looking for him to go gently.

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.comor follow on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at

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