Rewatching House, M.D. Seasons 1-3: Yep, He’s Still an Asshole…

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I like a complicated protagonist as much as the next obsessive media consumer. In fact, I’ll take my protagonists like I take my coffee: Overcooked from sitting on the burner with way too much cream and sugar. Okay, never mind, not at all like that. I will, however, take my protagonists intelligent, hilarious, and slightly evil, and Dr. House seems to fit the bill.

Except, as I discovered my 37th time watching House seasons 1-3, Dr. House is just a straight-up asshole.

Starting with the pilot, which aired in 2004, we know exactly what we’re getting into with Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie): Bluster, insults, acting like an entitled douche, misogyny, racism…he hits all his marks right away. In the Real World, Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps) would’ve filed multiple workplace harassment claims against House, and Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) would’ve immediately quit his team (because she probably wouldn’t even bother to file sexual harassment claims with HR, especially since House’s boss, Dr. Cuddy, hired House with the full knowledge of what a gross jagwagon he is). And Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer)? Who cares what he would do? Chase’s hairdo and Australian accent made him immune to character development until the fourth season of House, I guess? Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) would probably still be friends with House because, hey. We all know that guy, right?

“But the cane and the leg injury! He can’t help it! He’s in constant pain! Wouldn’t you be an asshole, too, if you were in pain all the time?” This is a point that’s addressed consistently throughout the series, and in House S3, it’s brought into a stark light thanks to the appearance of season three’s Big Bad, Detective Tritter (David Morse), who reacts to being treated poorly by House by investigating House’s use of Vicodin. Honestly, the first couple of times I watched House S3, I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be hating on more: House, for leaving Tritter in an exam room with a thermometer up his poop chute and flaunting his drug addiction after Tritter reveals he’s a police detective? Tritter, who is every bit as big of an asshole as House? He’s one big crooked cop cliche complete with low, threatening vocal intonation, the annoyoing nicotine gum chewing, the power-hungry look in his eye, the willingness to throw all of House’s colleagues and single friend under the bus in order to take House down for humiliating him…this is TV Cop 101 stuff. Of course, I always end up rooting for House. After all, House is the evil we know and “love,” whereas the whole point of Tritter’s appearance is to hold House responsible for being a major jerk regardless of his cane. There are no winners here.

Samesies with House S1. Remember the donor, Edward Vogler (Chi McBride) who gave Princeton Plainsboro a huge amount of money, which bought him his position as the hospital’s chairman of the board? Yeah, I know. Everyone hated Vogler, including the show’s viewership. Vogler threatened to revoke House’s tenure, but when the board of directors refused, Vogler took back his $100 billion, which Cuddy laments for quite some time (kudos for accuracy!!! Usually in TV, problems resolve and then go away forever, but Cuddy’s frustration over losing all that money lasts for a while, adding a layer of verisimilitude to a show that, for the most part, is hilariously implausible). Vogler, like Tritter, exists for the sole purpose of being the one person in House’s orbit that is an even bigger asshole than House.

I will resist the urge to recap all of season three, but suffice it to say, Tritter gets his comeuppance, House gets away with his crime and learns nothing in the process (even after going through the trouble of detox/rehab as part of his scheme), and Wilson is there at the end to pick up the pieces…or, more specifically, hand House Vicodin through the bars of his cell. Poor Wilson. Will he ever learn? Spoiler alert: No. During the season finale, they ride off together on motorcycles into the sunset. I don’t know which was a worse fate for Wilson: His cancer diagnosis, or his Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, Wilson really gets the shitty end of the stick when it comes to his friendship with House.

The real question here isn’t why House continues to enjoy employment. We know the conceit and we accept it because Television: He’s a brilliant and funny White Dude. The End. Really, the more interesting aspect of House S1-3 is the evolution of the show. At first, the writers clearly needed to set up House as sympathetic character, so they had to find Big Bads for him that were even bigger assholes than he is. That’s a tough line to balance, because once you engage in the game of Asshole One-Upmanship, the viewers no longer have anyone to root for. We’re left with two assholes fighting, and we start to feel like we want a teen slasher villain to show off and just kill everyone because THESE PEOPLE ARE AWFUL. Thankfully, once S4 rolled around, the writers of the show had jettisoned Asshole One-Upmanship in favor of refining House’s character, as well as some impressive side characters that ended up being some of my favorite characters in the show. As is customary for fans of House, I refuse to acknowledge S7, AKA, the season in which House and Cuddy Finally Do It. My hatred for this plot knows no bounds.

What House S1-3 does achieve is making Dr. Cuddy (Linda Edelstein), the true stand-out character in these problematic seasons. I love that she tortured House after she perjured herself on the stand in order to keep House from going to jail in S3. I love that she auditioned Wilson for sperm donorship, same season. And, it’s a good thing PPTH has a Burn Unit because of responses like this:

House: After that look, I’m feeling frisky. Looks like you’re up.
Cuddy: I’m ovulating. Let’s go.

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(imitating House’s ex-wife Stacy [Sela Ward], who works as the hospital attorney in S2) Here’s what I think she’s gonna say, ‘Oh I love Greg, but if he goes against a patient’s wishes, you’re calling her a liar and if something goes wrong, I end up in court having to defend the big, mean doctor albeit with dreamy eyes who wouldn’t believe the nice suburban mom and even though his cane makes me melt, do the damn surgery.'”

And, of course, the scathing retort in the screen shot at the top, in response to House telling her that a new hospital patient is a friend. “I thought I’d met all your friend.”

Sure, Cuddy was complicated. She was far too forgiving toward House, but she had to be, or there would be no House for us to loathe/love. Cuddy wanted to be a mother but proved that she might be a questionable one when she told a young patient that her parents might get back together. She made a lot of bad choices. She was practically made of bad choices. However, if we’re willing to forgive House his poor choices and undiluted spitefulness in favor of his smarts and sense of humor, we owe the same to a non-asshole like Dr. Cuddy. My favorite characters will continue to be complicated, flawed, stupid, misguided, fucked-up, and addicted to something, and they will always be brilliant and funny.

Consider this foreshadowing to a future post about my favorite comedic anti-hero, Larry David, who, like House, refuses to do the stop and chat.

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Bad Movie Mystique

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Samurai Cop is just coolin’ off.

There’s this great scene in the movie The Trust (2016) starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood. If you’ve seen the film, you might already know exactly the scene I’m talking about. Nicolas Cage’s mustachioed character, a crooked cop heisting a bank vault, grabs Elijah Wood, his crooked-cop cohort, and slams him up against the door of the bank vault, screaming “OPEN IT. OPENITOPENITOPENITOPENITOPENITOPENITOPENIT.”

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I’m under the impression the The Trust was supposed to be a gritty heist film packed with tense moments of not knowing who is trying to screw whom. And, for the most part, it is! And, it has one of the coolest ending scenes I’ve seen in a long time, so props to directors Alex and Benjamin Brewer (and Elijah Wood, who is like Nicolas Cage’s Bizarro Superman in that Wood has the ability to turn out excellent performances in every movie he’s in, even if I do have a tendency to confuse him with Daniel Radcliffe). However, enthusiasts of bad film are well-acquainted with Cage’s ability to turn even the most gravitas-laden movie into hot, delightful, train-wreck of a mess, which is why we love him so much. But why? Why do Cage’s tantrums tantalize us so? Why am I breaking out my bib every time I see his name top-billed on a movie poster? I have a hunch.

Nicholas Cage is not yet self-aware.

Unlike Skynet, Cage has not become sentient to his actions. Every sweaty, mouthy, scenery-gobbling display is executed completely free of irony. Cage isn’t trying to be Cage. He is simply Cage. The Cage chose him; he did not choose the Cage. As soon as Cage becomes too aware of his own inherent Cage-y-ness, the Cage will become corrupted, and, therefore, no longer the Cage. You get the idea.

So it goes for bad movies. As soon as a bad movie becomes aware of its badness, it stops being bad and becomes just boring. And, while lack of production values and even terribly-written dialogue can be forgiven to some degree (because, KUDOS FOR MAKING A THING THAT DIDN’T EXIST BEFORE. Seriously), a boring movie is simply unforgivable.

Samurai Cop (1991) and its squeak-uel, Samurai Cop 2 (2015), might be self-aware of its terribleness, but if it is, it doesn’t lead on. Every scene, every poorly directed scene in Samurai Cop feels intentional. Every flat line reading felt like it was the absolute very best the actor could deliver. Every half-assed fight scene felt like the entire production crew was slapping high-fives while the scenes were being shot, congratulating themselves on what a super badass totally awesome bitchin’ samurai cop movie this is turning out to be! “Bully for us, good sirs,” they assuredly cried, boasting of their good fortune! Every shockingly misogynistic moment seemed like the director truly believed that all those high-cut French bikini underwear (the most barf-worthy of underwear cuts outside of the g-string/thong, BTW) and all them silicone titties were 100% as sexy as it gets. Every time the main character, Joe Marshall (played by Mathew Karedas), donned a wig to cover the fact that he cut all of his hair after he believed all of this scenes were finished shooting, it feels like we’re supposed to buy that it’s Karedas’ real hair. Even the movie poster is a gem. What’s depicted has ABSOLUTELY ZERO THINGS TO DO WITH ANYTHING IN THE MOVIE. God, I love it when that happens:

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Who are these people?

 

Surely by the time the two main characters in the first Samurai Cop, Karedas and Mark Frazer (Marshall’s partner Frank Washington), got around to making the second one 25 years later, everyone was well aware that Samurai Cop The First was a “cult classic,” meaning that sequel director Gregory Hatanaka knew, too. After all, they enlisted the services of Tommy Wiseau, the ultimate coup in the wide world of terrible movies, to star as one the sequel’s many, many, many, many, many villains (there are so many characters in SC2, villainous and otherwise, I stopped keeping track after about 45 minutes). You know what you’re getting into with Wiseau. All involved with SC2 had to been aware of what they were making, right down to actor Bai Ling, who had the misfortune of starring in the worst episode of LOST, and that includes the maligned series finale.

And yet, with all of its CGI blood and airplane smoke bombs and Karedas’ striking resemblance to the unholy lovechild of Alice Cooper and The Cryptkeeper, SC2 seems blissfully unencumbered by the awareness that it’s a tightly-coiled, steaming pile of turds, and that right there is exactly what I love about it.

SyFy used to be the prime purveyors of craptacular bad movies, but by the time Sharknado 2 rolled around, the SyFy channel milieu became self-aware, and everyone stopped trying. Or, more accurately, they started trying to suck, and, when it comes to bad movies, there is no try.

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School’s out forever, my little pretties.

 

 

 

Self-Employment TV

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I watch TV while I work. Specifically: I listen to TV shows I know well and love while I work. Let me explain.

Having been self-employed for the past several years, I’ve figured out what it takes to stay focused and distraction-free while I’m stowed away in my attic office, tappy-typing away at web content (or, as one of my favorite comedians/writers/podcaster Scott Aukerman would say, “slingin’ ‘tent“) for my day job as a freelance writer. My home office needs are as follows:

  1. Coffee.
  2. Water.
  3. Dirty yoga mat for when I suddenly decide I need to practice yoga, which is usually when I’m under deadline.
  4. Space heater. My house is 200 years old. I’d call it drafty, but “open air park pavilion” is probably a more accurate description. The attic office gets cold.
  5. An endless supply of TV series, movies, and podcasts, all of which I’ve watched repeatedly. In fact, they must all be shows, movies, and podcasts (or audiobooks) I’ve seen or heard numerous times, because any new TV series, movie, or audio media will take my attention away from writing. It must be well-worn. It must be well-loved. It must be something I can ignore for long periods of time.

Number 5 on the list is what brings me here today. While I’m doing research or putting together blog posts for Actual Grown-up Work (which will henceforth be known as ACGW), I find my ears drawn to whatever is playing in the background, and I often discover something I missed the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth time around. Particularly true of one of my favorite comedy series of all time, 30 Rock. Its vivacious pace, peppy and highly-underrated musical score (created by 30 Rock show creator Tina Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond), and joke-a-second dialogue make second and third viewings of the show an absolute necessity, simply because you missed about 75% of the jokes the first time through. Trust me on this. After you watch it again, you’ll be driving your friends insane with your Jack Donaghy oneliners and your haunting renditions of “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” at every social gathering, turning you into the pariah you’d always dreamed you be.

So, I watch a lot of things while I work, and I have a lot of things to say about them. Having grown up during that golden era known as the 1980s, I’ve consumed a ton of TV. Most of it awful, some of it great. TV shows are as comforting to me as a wubby and binkie, and running them in the background while I work on ACGW helps me to stay focused, relaxed, and highly entertained. And now it’s time for me to talk about them in exhaustive detail.

It’s also time for me to talk about my serious, if new-found, love of horror movies. Oh my god, you guys, I have so much to say about horror movies YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.

If this sounds like your kind of bag, please join my on this adventure in Kandy’s Watchblog. It’ll be at least as fun as a Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.