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Scrub Par

Take one cranky doctor. Add wishful thinking. The result is medical TV at its most satisfying and basic.

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Before you run screaming down the brown corridor in your green scrubs at the bitter news that House is yet another doctor show, think about it for a minute. Most of us have done more time watching ER, NYPD Blue, and Gunsmoke than we are ever likely to spend in a real hospital, in a real jail, or on an actual horse. This is because doctors, cops, and cowboys make reliable television. Hospitals, in fact, are already stage sets, with masks and machinery, scalpels and stethoscopes, morphine drips and bloody beds. From surgical cutups to Damaged Health Care, medicine is something that networks know how to practice, like intellectual-property theft.

In this case, “House” is not a place or space but rather the doctor’s name. Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a diagnostician so brilliant he needn’t bother to be civil. In a teaching hospital, what he does best is disdain. He won’t even talk to his patients, because they lie a lot. He has to talk to his team, of course, but when he does, it is to tell the African-American neurologist (Omar Epps) that he hired him only because of his juvie record as a burglar, and the female immunologist (Jennifer Morrison) that he hired her only for her looks—“like having a nice work of art in the lobby.” Mostly, he talks to himself and machines.

House thus belongs to that subdivision of medical shows where the doctor is the last angry man. See Vince Edwards as Ben Casey, Jack Klugman as Quincy, Andre Braugher in Gideon’s Crossing, and, in the network house next door, Neal McDonough on Medical Investigation. McDonough, who wears black leather, could give fashion tips to Laurie, a surprising slob for someone with an English accent—even if we are given to understand that personal hygiene, like decent respect for the opinions of mankind, is frivolous when you yourself are deeply wounded and the cane you brandish is connected to a traumatic memory of “muscle death.”

Whereas Laurie could give McDonough lessons on line-reading. This is part enunciation, part scripts by such talented executive producers as David Shore (who wrote the first two episodes), Paul Attanasio, Katie Jacobs, and Bryan Singer. With House, we are in the hands of professionals: accomplished actors playing doctors who come to care about their patients, whose afflictions range from tapeworms to brain tumors. The idea of insurance never enters our heads. Once again, the best medical care in the world is available only to those Americans lucky enough to get sick on television.

House
Fox.
Tuesday, November 16, 9 P.M.


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