House | Your next box set

Hugh Laurie's charismatic performance as the witty, rude diagnostician House made him a star in the US

Sneering, misanthropic, unethical, a bully: he's not an obvious hire. But Dr House is such a brilliant diagnostician that Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital took the risk, and so he hobble-strides around its corridors, waving the cane he has used since an operation removed half the muscle in one leg, insulting his photogenic colleagues, making patients cry, and generally doing hefty damage to the war-chest his boss has set up purely to deal with House-related lawsuits.

It helps, of course, to possess bucketloads of charisma, and the role made Hugh Laurie a star in America and, oddly, in France, where he is a bona fide sex symbol. Partly this is because he is an attractive man; partly it's all the witty rudeness. Largely, though, it is because this is intelligent TV — rapid-fire jokes about Dante or Socrates are fillips in what are essentially weekly brainteasers where the prize is a saved life. "Some doctors have a messiah complex – they want to save people," his friend Wilson (oncology) says. "You've got the Rubik's complex. You need to solve the puzzle."

The show started out tentatively, with clunky bits of backstory and a misguided soundtrack. But it soon gained in confidence, offering caustic commentary on the risks of over-prescribing antibiotics and psych meds; on the often dysfunctional relationship between patient and doctor; and on the ways in which personal history can cloud or illuminate diagnoses. Watching too many episodes can induce a certain crossness about how often a patient is brought back from the brink; but my favourites are those that bring in the doctors' private lives, too: there's a virtuosic episode in which a lecture to medical students gets entwined with House's feelings about his ex-wife, who has just reappeared, demanding he cure the new husband. "Everybody lies," as House says, often. The question is why — and the psychological detective work is far more interesting, in the end, than the innumerable MRIs.


Aida Edemariam

The GuardianTramp

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