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House MD turns 17 : A prime-time medical show like no other

On House MD’s 17th year of release, charting the medical drama’s mass appeal and accuracy

Shreya Paul
Nov 26, 2021
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Pushing the boundaries of the ‘acceptable’ protagonist with Gregory House, creator David Shore’s medical drama mixed mystery, drugs and complex characters to create a fan favourite.

Even before Grey’s Anatomy introduced the viewers to a world of over-sexualised McDreamys and McSteamys, Gregory House (Hugh Lurie) had started his reign of domination over the American medical drama genre with House MD. With its first season airing in 2004, the series set out to use dramatic medical mysteries as a form of social commentary. It chooses to take the brave step of having a protagonist that Fox would not want as a face for its shows. Taking the risk was worthwhile for the show as it ran for eight long seasons before the creators brought it to a satisfactory close in 2012.

Showrunner David Shore went on to create another medical drama The Good Doctor. Both of his hospital-based creations have offbeat leads who are extremely intelligent but are at times overwhelmed by their disabilities. The Good Doctor’s Shaun Murphy is more of an inspirational character than House.

The young doctor tries consciously to overcome the obstacles that come with him being on the autism spectrum. On the other hand, House through multiple seasons, refuses to address his disability and drug problems.

Sporting a dark backstory and hating every bit of it, House is seen as a complicated character. He lashes out at those around him without a second thought. The pain he suffers physically is as immense as the one he is forced to endure mentally. Having his mobility affected by the decisions of his partner Stacy Warner (Sela Ward) and his doctor Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) against his will, he lives a life in constant rebellion.

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He openly defies authorities, talks down to his colleagues, is rude to his patients, and indulges in enough malpractice to have his medical license revoked in the very first episode. Yet, Fox allowed a show with such a lead to be broadcast across nations.

The inspiration drawn from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes may have given the show a nudge in the right direction. There are many parallels and influences that Holmes fans can catch throughout the show. House and his best friend (of sorts) James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) echo the camaraderie between Holmes and Watson. In the first episode, there is even a hat-tip to Irene Adler (Sherlock’s much-debated-upon paramour) as the first patient seen on the show is a woman named Rebecca Adler.

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Sherlockian easter eggs aside, the show follows a similar pattern to the mysteries that the famed detective solved. Holmes was often presented with cases that multiple agencies and detectives failed to solve. Lack of evidence and the impossibility of cases were known to be extra special for Holmes. In a similar vein, House always finds a way to get to the bottom of the mysterious illness. Most of the episodes centre around severely ill patients. The complexity of the diseases is such that they almost always go unidentified by the highly-acclaimed-yet-incompetent doctors at Princeton–Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (PPTH). The doctors then approach House multiple times before he nudges the team in the right direction or simply provides a resolution.

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However, the mass appeal of the show began taking a hit as the seasons went by. Fans of the show observed that the episodes started getting extremely predictable and cyclic despite efforts to bring something new to the table.

Nevertheless, the sixth season has one of the most impactful episodes of the entire series. Titled Broken, the episode has been widely accepted as the high point of the show. Some fans continue to claim that the episode would have been a better finale to the show than season eight’s final one called Everybody Dies.

While fans still debate if the show should have ended with Broken, one thing that medical professionals seem to agree upon is the accuracy of the show. While all dramas are far from the realistic world of medicine, House comes closer than others. Compared to shows like ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Good Doctor, House stands out with its accuracy.

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From the approach taken by the medical staff at PPTH, to the diagnosis that mostly House ends up offering, they have been accepted as factually sound by doctors. The lead character’s abhorrent treatment of those around him is merely a dramatic tangent that the makers added.

The witty, gritty and gripping show came to an end abruptly, leaving fans wondering if the show completely lost touch with the targetted demograph. The show has left behind a legacy for the medical drama genre as well as the stars who stepped into their recurring roles.


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