Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What if Joss Whedon directed "House, M.D."?

My wife and I try not to get addicted to more than one TV series at a time — well, two, tops.

At present, our addictions are 24 (of course) and, most recently (thanks to our going-to-be-a-doctor-DV son) House, M.D. We've been watching House each week and, at the same time, catching up on past episodes through the wonder that is Netflix. Since the show's only in its third season, we're almost caught up.

We like the show a lot. It's very intelligent, mostly very well-written, and the actors (particularly Hugh Laurie in the title role) are very good. Actually, Laurie is marvelous, particularly given that he's a Brit acting in a flawless American accent.

House himself is a terrible man, just terrible. Absolutely brilliant doctor, wreck of a human being. I doubt we watch an episode without me turning to Valerie, exclaiming "He's awful!" He's unsympathetic, impatient, never suffers fools (or even non-genuises) gladly, has the bedside manner of Hannibal Lector, and horrendous ethics.

But he's tireless in his pursuit of the cause of each week's disease, he's funny; and often, as he is watching, he has the most haunted look of yearning sadness that the viewer hopes that something is going on inside.

Plus, the episodes often do a surprisingly good job of raising ethical issues, and that in a non-clichéd way. And usually these episodes are kind of like (if you'll pardon the metaphor) a road-kill pizza: a real array of meatiness, yet complex and knotty. For instance SPOILER ALERT ON — there was the episode of the pregnant woman who would die unless she accepted a treatment that would kill her unborn child. But the woman was (to us Christians) unsympathetic in that she was unmarried, and had the child fathered by a homosexual friend's sperm. Yet she was absolutely insistent that the child would live, even if she died. And she insisted on calling it a child, while House insisted in calling it a "fetus." Plus his boss, Dr. Cuddy — whose spirituality and ethics are better than House's, but that's not saying a lot — was pursuing saving child and mother as intensely as House usually pursues his weekly mystery disease.

And then House does surgery on the unborn child -- who reaches out and grasps his finger. He's clearly moved. He calls it a "baby" after that. The last scenes shows him alone in his apartment, looking at the finger the child touched.

Yes, you read me right. That was on network TV. — SPOILER ALERT OFF —

If I had one criticism, it mght be of the fact that every episode we've seen follows exactly the same formula. Opening scene shows some happy soul, who within a minute or two is struck down by The Mystery Disease of the Week. And whatever else happens, it will take the whole episode to figure out what's afflicting this person. Plus, the hospital's tests alone will usually worsen it, as will initial treatment.

Now, if Joss Whedon were directing....

In case you don't know him, Whedon was the genius behind the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly TV series, as well as the movie Serenity. How would House be different if Whedon were in charge?
  1. He would certainly mess with the formula. It would not be the same from week to week. One week — it might be a musical!
  2. He would have killed some major character by now. Probably either Dr. Cuddy or Wilson; it has to be one everyone loves. I say it'd have been Cuddy, since House needs the counterpoint of Wilson (who plays Dr. Watson to House's Sherlock Holmes).
  3. Religious characters would not have been portrayed so sympathetically. I've often remarked that Joss Whedon (a self-described "angry atheist"), like most Hollywood writers, has evidently never ever known well and liked even one genuine, practicing Christian.
  4. The humor would be as sharp, or sharper.
  5. Sexuality would be about the same (which isn't good), except that one heterosexual character might "go gay" for no apparent reason whatever.
  6. The seasons would have serious plot-arcs. At present, they've had a weak arc here and there, but basically you can jump on this train at any time, and not have missed much.
  7. There would be more character-evolution. As it is, every one of the four major characters is basically exactly the same as when we first met him or her. If Whedon were at the helm, this would not be so.
Your thoughts or additions? I mean, besides how terrible it is that I know either House or Whedon?


Kim said...

I've seen the show House advertised on t.v., and thought about watching, just because Hugh Laurie is in it. The first time I ever saw him in anyting, it was in Sense and Sensibiltiy, and he was devestatingly funny as Mr. Palmer.

Yes, I know I didn't really answer the question in your post, and this is proably horribly off-topic, but I'm recovering from a cold, and my brain is fuzzier than usual.

Trinian said...

Hooray for uneasy, cranky anti-heroes!

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go over here and watch Serenity again.

Trinian said...

BTW, if you found the gritty space western genre as captivating as I did, then might I suggest Cowboy Bebop to ease the terrible pain caused by no more Firefly. It lacks some of the breadth of characters that Firefly had in its 9-person crew, but has much of the same style (gravitas + silliness) with a similar feel and depth to the stories. I would at least check out the movie if you haven't already.

Pastor Steve said...

The three shows I try not to miss are 24, House, and The Office. House is becoming a little bit harder to stomach with its increasing sexual references, but I don't think I have seen a show develop its characters so well. The plot is very redundant, as you stated, and is one major flaw, but I find myself so pulled into the characters that the medical dilemma is secondary. The abortion episode impressed me too, although the show certainly has enough moral decay to counter that small beam of light.

I think the single best scene in a while was in 24 two weeks ago when Jack single-handedly took out about 7 terrorists. Great stuff.

P.D. Nelson said...

You forgot one thing Dan if Whedon was writing it inevitably some young woman would turn out to be the savior of the universe (vis a vis Buffy or River)

Trinian said...

Heh, I'll start watching House for the episode when the hospital starts a clinical research project using a new drug called G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate to cure insomnia.

DJP said...

...or chronic leg pain.


Rileysowner said...

We watch House regularly. Although he is horrible, at the same time there is something about him that draws me back again and again.

I have not been able to get into 24 at all. Probably because I have not watched it from the beginning and really don't want to take the time to try to catch up.

Dez Reavey said...

"If I had one criticism, it mght be of the fact that every episode we've seen follows exactly the same formula...."

I agree. It is one of two failings, the other is the long winded rants that happen in the office usually involving a whiteboard.

Dr. 1 - It could be...
House - No otherwise this would have happened.
Dr. 2 - This disease would explain this symptom.....
Dr.3 - Yeah but it doesn't explain...
Etc. Etc. Etc.

Long winded, boring, full of medical jargon and like Dan said very formulaic (spelling? Sorry.)

But apart from this House is a great show, very witty and the humor is very dry/sarcastic.


Craig Schwarze said...

I thought *Book* on *Serenity* was a fairly sympathetic religious character. His religion was hopelessly syncretistic of course. But at least he had a Bible.

Ah, *Serenity* withdrawls. Actually, I've been watching Farscape recently, which is a really good Sci Fi. A little bit smutty in places unfortunately, but aside from that, very well done.

DJP said...

Vaguely religious. Whedon seemingly can write convincing murderers, jerks, monsters, relativistic nihilists, and fiends, but can't (or doesn't want to) write an identifiable, sympathetic, 3-D Christian character to save his life.

From my Serenity review, linked in the article:

"Whedon is not nearly as successful as Straczynski was in peopling his universe with believable, full-orbed, practicing religious people. He has a wonderful character named Book, but never seems to know exactly what to do with him. In the series Book is your typical liberal-created clergyman, non-judgmental and gripped with his own unresolved issues. Here he says 'Believe! I don't care what you believe -- just believe.' Uh huh."

As to Farscape: some of the best makeup ever. Filmed, apparently, on another planet. (c;

But dank, dark, depressing plotlines.

Craig Schwarze said...

Filmed, apparently, on another planet. (c;

Heh - I have a chuckle whenever I hear a really broad, Aussie accent in one of the minor characters. Did you know that Creiss also did the voice for Pilot?

Annette said...

House is a favourite in our household. :) Yes, House is a "not nice" man, but he has good qualities...kinda like a hound dog on a scent. And you can slowly start to see him change, to realize that there is more to life.

Anyways, despite it's formulaic (sp?) approach, it's still a winner.

Trinian said...

Book is a very convincing ex-government agent gone underground as a religious missionary. In other words, I don't think Whedon ever intended to create a real Christian with grounded faith, but a guy struggling with his past who finds peace in the comfort and solitude of the futuristic church.
We might say that he has once escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but as soon as he is removed from that situation and placed in amongst a group of "bad guys" he is once again entangled and overcome, and (though I might debate this a bit) the movie seems to show us that his latter end is worse than the beginning. (2 Peter 2:18-22)
Perhaps I'm reading my own presuppositions into the character (it's probably the case), but I don't think he was ever meant to be a real, solid, 3d Christian any more than Father Callahan or Echo were ever meant to be real Christians.
Please disabuse me of this if you can - I hate to think that the best Christian example that we have from TV is Ned Flanders.

Jeremy Felden said...


I think House is one of the few shows that portrays a Calvinistic view of unredeemed humanity. One of House's major premises is that everyone lies. And he's right! Everyone's efforts to restore his faith in humanity fall flat, but the occasional glimpse of the imago Dei does break in.

I don't excuse the depravity in House, but neither does House. Most recently, the show debunked the idea of friends with benefits, a staple of consequence-free TV.

House and Foreman have major issues with Christianity from their pasts, but even their Christ-hauntedness seems far more real than the consistently disappointing optimism of Wilson, Cuddy, and (until recently) Cameron.

I can't really comment on Buffy, but I would posit that House presents more (though not nearly all) of a Christian worldview than the treacly Touched by an Angel (may it never return!). But I'm sure that's not news to anyone!

candy said...

We like watching House. He is surly, sarcastic, and blunt...kinda like some bloggers I know. :)

I am so over his female co-worker though. The girl is annoying. Not Cuddy, the other one.

No one approaches me in the hallowed hours between 10 and 11 on Wednesday nights, because that is when LOST is on.

DJP said...

Yes; since we're up to date with 24, and almost caught up with House, I figure Lost is next.

Craig Schwarze said...

I got "over" Lost after the first season. I'm enjoying "Heroes" though...

Shaun Marksbury said...

We enjoy House as well. The acting is indeed superb. I haven't caught the abortion episode, but I'm impressed by your plot summary.

Mostly, I've been disturbed by the unfettered naturalism in the show. For instance, hopes and fears are often reduced to chemical reactions in their brains. Sex is often reduced to a mere biological function.

I recall an episode where a youth's "revelations" from God turn out to be audio/visual hallucinations caused by a tumor - an example of the "delusion" (to borrow from Richard Dawkins)of religion.

Often times, House's reductionistic view is challenged, as in your example. Yet, this doesn't occur often or clearly enough. That would be my one criticism of the show.

BTW: Great post - I loved your Josh Whedon predictions!

jacobsteel said...

hahaha... great post. wow, I guess you're spot on. What does Whedon himself say about House?

Pitbull78 said...

Hey Dan, how excited I was to see you had another blog beside Pyro.

Question: Do you follow the Buffy and Angel comic books that pick up where the tv series left off? Joss Whedon writes quite a few of them...

You are correct though, I have never seen a writer like Joss Whedon who so perfectly develops characters and has awesome and intriging plot-arcs. He is working on a new show called Dollhouse staring Eliza Dushku and Amy Acker (Faith and Fred from Buffy and Angel)

DJP said...


No; I'm waiting for the comics to be bound in a single volume.

Yes, I'll want to see Dollhouse.

Did you see Dr. Horrible's Sing along?

Pitbull78 said...

I did see Dr. Horrible, and once again Joss Whedon totally blows me away with his writing not to mention Neil Patrick Harris did a great job acting.

As for the Buffy and Angel comics, they have compiled them together...however I think the first "book" is issues 1-5 and the other is 6-10, found in hardcover and paper back. They contain the same witty banter that the show always had.

Also, I know we don't really know each other but I really respect your view cause I know how biblically centered you are. I had a few personal questions I was wondering if I could bounce off of you and get some feedback, do you have an email I could send those too?

DJP said...

Sure; But I'll probably say "Ask your pastor."

Boglárka said...

I know I'm very, very late for the party, but I've just binge-watched Firefly) which was cancelled by the same network, that House was on), and I have to say this.

I think if Joss Whedon have been directing House, he wouldn't have destroyed the female characters for one thing. I used to love House M.D. and I loved Cuddy's character too, but in s4, she was reduced to a sex joke, in s5, she was a total schizo, in s7 she whined more than the previous seasons combined.

And in the beginning House's misantropy was fun, later it was just too much. Not just his behaviour, but the fact that he was getting away with anything. Creating mayhem in the ER or clinic to get cable, giving the hostage-taker his gun back, car in the living room.

The writers were always trying to top themselves, but everything was becoming more and more unrealistic and ridiculous. The medicine too, especially if they tried too hard with the drama. I guess in a fantasy show like Buffy, it's different when they're trying to top themselves, and they stay away from reality (like Buffy getting a rocket launcher or how Joyce and other people in Sunnydale didn't realise they lived on a Hellmouth). But if in a medical show, they show things like one syringe of medication curing a man that's been sick for years, a man talking with his heart stopped, a kid levitating, House curing a lung-in-the-box, erasing a patient's memory, or just getting back his license after asylum and jail. That's just too over the top.

There were so much insane stuff in later seasons, that I just can't believe that FOX cancelled Firefly, and didn't cancel House sooner (like right after season 5).

Boglárka said...

Sorry, things I forgot:

If Joss Whedon had been directing House, at least there would've been moments when the show made fun of itself. So it wouldn't have been too over the top.

And what bugged me about FOX is that they didn't like Malcolm Reynolds' character, because he was "too dark" or whatever. Mal was by far a better character than House IMO. So I found it very hypocritical, that they cancelled Firefly, but kept House.

rant over