Alibi V.14 No.16 • April 21-27, 2005 

Idiot Box

House Party

“House, M.D.” on FOX

In the past few weeks, some casual television observers may have been shocked to find FOX's more-hyped-than-happenin' medical drama “House” suddenly knocking at the door of the weekly Top 10. In a world where new shows get booted after a week or two of weak ratings, “House” is the latest example of a network actually giving audiences time to ease into a series.

“House” debuted last November with about six million viewers. Hardly worth writing home about. But the show had a solid pedigree. It was created by David Shore (producer of “Law & Order”) and Bryan Singer (director of the X-Men movies). Plus, it was staffed with a fairly impressive cast, including Hugh Laurie (Stuart Little, 101 Dalmatians), Omar Epps (“ER,” Love & Basketball) and Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poets Society). FOX shelled out a pretty penny to make the show, so they figured they might as well let it run out the season.

Then, a funny thing happened. FOX's evergreen hit “American Idol” came back on the air. With the strong “AI” lead-in, “House” doubled its viewership to 12 million. Since then, the show has gained about five million more viewers, giving it more than enough clout to win its timeslot and hover near the No. 11 slot on the weekly ratings chart. Sometimes a little word of mouth is all you need. That, and a boost from Ryan Seacrest.

Most of the credit for the show's success should probably go to star Hugh Laurie. Astute BBC addicts know him from such classics as “Black Adder,” “Jeeves and Wooster” and “A Bit of Fry and Laurie.” Ditching both his British accent and his sizable résumé as a comic actor, Laurie has found himself a great niche in the role of thorny medico Gregory House. The show itself is your basic medical mystery, a cross between “ER” and “CSI.” But Dr. House is hardly the TV typical hero. He's a mean-spirited, speak-his-mind genius who cares more about solving riddles than caring for human beings. His bedside manner, to say the least, is lacking. But it is his gruff, sometimes hilariously rude side that makes House's character so endearing.

The show has a rather distinct weekly formula (which may be why mainstream America digs it), but the show's writers (who have proved themselves fairly adept at character work) need to find a way to break out of this mold. Each week, somebody comes into the hospital with a mysterious set of symptoms. Everybody believes it's one thing, but diagnostic expert Dr. House offers up some crackpot solution. Eventually, complications arise, and House is called in to save the day. You'd think after six months on the job, the other doctors would realize that House is always right.

Ultimately, “House, M.D.” wins thanks to its topflight cast and stylishly icky medical mysteries. Plus, it will only improve with age. ... Unlike dead horse series “ER,” which is currently making a good case for euthanasia over on NBC.

“House, M.D.” airs every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on KASA-2.