Monday, April 30, 2007
Brother: You know, after the rocky start to the season House has been consistently good, even excellent. I really enjoyed this week's episode.
I thought the ending was a little forced and lame, but then I remembered that I have a mother who would forgive me for anything without even knowing what it was. I guess moms are like that. What did puzzle me a little was that she forgave him without really knowing who he was. Maybe she still remembers that she loves him, just not who he is. I dunno. Even if it's believable, it's still lame.
Me: I think the mom forgave him because he came looking for forgiveness, dumb as that sounds. It's a trait in many people with Alzheimer's that they try to fake their way through situations, telling people what they expect to hear, or pretending to know them, or whatever.
Brother: I didn't know that was a symptom of Alzheimer's [I don't think it's really a symptom, more a coping mechanism of some people in the early stages], although I've read of extreme cases (not involving Alzheimer's) of people who fit their outlook to what's expected, to the point where they accept situations like awards ceremonies given for them (part of an experiment) without question, or will believe their occupation to be related to their current situation, such as a man in a bar believing he's a bartender.
My interpretation was sweeter, though. And I don't believe she would have forgiven House for anything if he asked (not that he would). I believe she would have driven a stake into his heart.
Brother: The funniest bit was Foreman's and House's exchange about the treatment for autoimmune diseases. "It's always steroids."
I didn't really buy into them missing a simple infection, though. Simple for them, I mean, I wouldn't have diagnosed it. I don't really believe that four doctors as skilled as they are would miss that because they're used to looking for more exotic diseases. The show was more about the characters than the medical mystery of the week, but it seemed a little sloppy -- of both the writers and the doctors.
Me: [I included a link to Doris Egan's LiveJournal entry where she explains some of her choices for the episode.] She says some of what I was going to say to you when I had time to answer your e-mail, that the reason they missed a simple infection was that it did not have any symptoms of infection -- no fever, negative lumbar puncture -- and did fit the symptoms of another disease, so like their usual MO they went ahead with treatment that fit the disease that matched the symptoms.
Brother: Yes, it makes sense, but not being a doctor I go by what the characters say, and they all said (I'm quoting verbatim) "God, we were dumbasses to miss that. Any monkey with a stethoscope would have picked that up." At least that's what my copy said.
All kidding aside, I see that a GP wouldn't have thought of the rare exotic disease that they knew about, but it was the characters who told me how simple it was and how they shouldn't have missed it. Except for House, who wasn't really too worried about the patient, just that he didn't solve the puzzle in time. [I'd argue that they didn't actually say that, in fact Chase pointed out the lack of fever and clear lumbar puncture, and House pointed out that it'll happen again because it's the nature of their practice that they save more people by treating based on the diagnosis that fits the symptoms rather than waiting for all the test results. OK, I'm paraphrasing too.]
Omar Epps is easily the most talented of the minions. I really noticed how he used body language to show how his character felt after he left the patient's room after giving her the bad news. I mean before he punched the wall. Wall punching isn't really subtle.
After a brief exchange we were spared more of Cameron's and Chase's melodrama, although Chase promised he's bring it up every Tuesday. Hopefully we won't be around every time he ... wait, House is on Tuesdays, isn't it? Damn. I just don't want it to be like Sports Night when those two (I know you know the character names, as well as their ages, but I don't) kept the promise of romance going and going and going until it got ridiculous.
[He means Casey and Dana, aged 34 and 33 respectively. Kidding. I have no idea how old they were. And, yeah, their will-they-or-won't-they almost ruined the show for me.]
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Somebody wants to dispossess other people of fun and information and that's not only mean-spirited, it's a tad totalitarian. Surely we've all had our fill of less information, no information and manipulated information. We need to know more, not less. We need more questioning, more context and an assortment of vigorously questioning media. We can decide for ourselves if we're getting what we need. Sometimes TV lets us down, as do newspapers, radio and magazines. Turning it all off is a mistake.
Over the last week, I've been introduced to The Take-Away Shows, featuring new, arty videos by bands such as the Shins and Arcade Fire:
On the Parisian Website La Blogothèque, photographer and filmmaker Vincent Moon regularly contributes a video feature called Les concerts à emporter (“The Take-Away Shows”) in which he films emerging bands in distinctive locations around France, performing songs in one continuous take. In a particularly memorable installment, the Brooklyn-based quintet the National play their forthcoming track “Start a War” while seated around a dimly lit dinner table, a somber setting that adds an extra layer of atmosphere to an already eerie song.
Another gem is a Coke ad with a song by Jack White (of the White Stripes). Yes, it's an ad, but it's the coolest ad I've seen in a long time, and the song is damnably hummable:
Then there's an art exhibit called La Chute (The Fall):
[Denis] Darzacq created the images not through digital tricks but by enlisting the help of break-dancers and using locations on the outskirts of Paris ignored by romantic photographers like Robert Doisneau. He was inspired by the 2005 riots in those working-class suburbs and has said his intent (so French) was to illustrate an alienated generation. The sense of estrangement is palpable, but so too is the odd and chilly beauty of gravity.
I haven't signed up for the e-mail because I'm in no danger of forgetting to check out the website every day for a new cultural gem.
"House Training" is one of those perfect storm House episodes: fun and meaningful exploration of the central character, insight into some secondary characters, ties to past episodes, and a compelling medical mystery that takes an unexpected turn. Some of the most memorable episodes in this series involve a break from the usual structure, but as written by Doris Egan, this one doesn't rely on twists or tricks, just wonderful characterization plus incisive and witty dialogue.
The entire premise of House is that the cranky doctor and his slightly less cranky team work with patients that other doctors can't diagnose, so the usual techniques don't apply. Pinning down the rare disease before the patient runs out of time often means they leap to treatment rather than tests -- sometimes out of a conviction that their clever answer to the medical mystery is correct, sometimes as a quick and easy form of diagnosis.
From season one's "Detox" we got the madness behind House's method: "I take risks. Sometimes patients die. But not taking risks causes more patients to die. So I guess my biggest problem is I've been cursed with the ability to do the math."
Finally, we get the human face of the other side of the math equation. As Foreman points out, the team has run out of time before. They've made mistakes before. But this time, their mistake is a direct result of business as usual.
Lupe (memorably played by Monique Gabriela Curnen) is the unfortunate patient of the week, a three-card Monte accomplice who freezes during a scam, unable to exercise her free will. "Maybe we can get Thomas Aquinas in for a consult," House quips. As he philosophically points out, "What's life without the ability to make stupid choices?" And this episode is full of them.
The lack of free will is a symptom of a transient ischemic attack -- a quick stroke -- and the team brainstorms a root cause, such as a clot, ADD, or a vasospasm caused by the patient's stupid choice to use drugs. Chase toys with Foreman by rejecting the drug theory and implying Foreman is judging her because she's a minority. In fact, Chase already has the negative tox screen results. House has trained him well.
We learn Lupe's tragic backstory while House wanders off to investigate Wilson's friendly conversation with a woman we learn is his second ex-wife. A high school drop-out, pregnant at 15, Lupe lost her baby to SIDS. But like the man with the limp, her tragic backstory does not define who she is, and Foreman rejects the information as irrelevant and continues to view her with some scorn.
The second Mrs. Wilson, Bonnie (Jane Adams), wants Wilson to take their dog. But Wilson is not only never home, he doesn't have a home, he's still staying in a hotel. Gee, too bad he doesn't know any realtors who could sell him a condo. House loses interest in the Wilson reunion when he discovers Hector is not their former pool boy, but gains it back when he discovers what Wilson is doing on Thursday.
Cuddy, a bright woman, must have looked up "I got tickets to a play" in her House-English dictionary and found the "I want to see you naked" definition, because we learn she rejected House's invitation at the same time as House learns she'd already accepted Wilson's invitation to an art exhibit for that same night.
She also knows she's a pawn between the two men. "You think you saw somebody else pick up a toy from the sandbox and suddenly you want it," using imagery that not only nails House's mental age, but his perverse nature, too. She tells him she needed a friend and went with the safe choice. "I'm not safe? Cool," House grins before warning, not inaccurately: "James Wilson is never the safe choice."
As House tells Wilson later, "If I can figure out where you keep going wrong, I can nip this Cuddy thing in the bud before she becomes the fourth ex-Mrs. Wilson."
So House spends a good portion of "House Training" trying to uncover the mystery behind Wilson's multiple marriage pathology. He seems largely unmotivated by concern for Cuddy or for Wilson, but rather by his own pathological curiosity.
Scenes of House quizzing Bonnie while purportedly condo shopping are intercut with scenes of Wilson and Cuddy at a definitely-not-Hockney exhibit while purportedly not dating. Bonnie reveals that she and Wilson started off as just friends, but his attentiveness was seductive enough that she ended up jumping him. "James Wilson, carefully calibrating his level of protectiveness for your individual needs," she says. "Did you just compare Wilson to a tampon?" House asks.
Bonnie found Wilson attractive because of his endearing ability to be a good friend, "always there to support you, until one day he's not." House gives a shocked Wilson the questionable advice that he has to sleep with Cuddy before she gets hooked emotionally in order to break the pattern.
That pattern of being there until he's not hasn't extended to Wilson's relationship with House -- yet -- though we've never seen the House-Wilson dynamic in the early stages of a Mrs. Wilson. Maybe it is that scenario House is afraid of, maybe he is seriously afraid Wilson's relationship with Cuddy will detract from House being the focus of Wilson's protectiveness. Maybe he's just an ass.
We have seen the House-Wilson dynamic in the later stages of a Mrs. Wilson, when House's neediness takes him away from his wife. "Damned if You Do" and "Honeymoon," among others, showed us a glimpse of that. And that's the big reveal provided by Bonnie.
She confronts him after she finds out he's been wasting her time with the condo shopping, and tells him the source of her dog's name: it's an anagram of Dr. Greg House, combining her resentment of House with the dog's habit of peeing on the carpet.
"'Hector does go rug' is a lame anagram," House says. "Want a better one for Gregory House? 'Huge ego, sorry.'" I can't tell you how much I love that anagram. OK, maybe I can: I really love that anagram.
"You always needed him and he was always there for you," she says. "I'm not saying you ruined the marriage, but you didn't help."
So whether he accepts the lesson or not, whether it's the whole story or not, House has a key to Wilson's failed marriages: it's him. However, as he not very kindly points out, he's not going to buy a condo because he feels sorry for her.
Fortunately House is only minimally involved in Lupe's care, giving him enough time to annoy Bonnie, Wilson and Cuddy and solve his friend's doomed cycle of marriages. Foreman takes the tacit lead on the case, and when he and Chase find a crack pipe in Lupe's dodgy apartment, Foreman's even more convinced that despite her protests she's a drug user. He wants to tests her for arsenic poisoning until she vomits blood on his nice white coat and goes into respiratory arrest.
While Cameron and Chase discover a mass on the subsequent MRI, Chase casually points out that if she changes her mind about dating him, he's still available, and he will continue to remind her every Tuesday. It's a hilariously low-key pursuit that throws her off-balance. "No need to go on about it," he shrugs sweetly as she sputters her objections.
The mass leads the team to an auto-immune disease, and while House ponders which it might be, wanting to pinpoint the solution to the mystery, Foreman impatiently, Housily, but boringly wants to skip that step and go to steroid treatment, since that's standard for any autoimmune.
Among their similarities, House and Foreman share the desire to avoid their parents. "House Training" brings Charles S. Dutton back as Mr. Foreman, and Beverly Todd as Foreman's heretofore only hinted at mother, who suffers from dementia. They're in town for her 60th birthday, since he had refused to return home to celebrate with them. He hasn't been home, in fact, for eight years.
She's brought him a framed picture of himself as a little boy, back when he used to peek ahead to the end of his math books to marvel at what he'd know by the end of the year. "You wanted to look ahead to see how far you'd go. Now that you're a grown man, I thought you'd want to look back to see how far you've come." Foreman doesn't like looking back though, and this episode is the evidence.
Lupe accuses Foreman of not liking her, but he points out that she doesn't stand out from any of the other drug addicts he's treated.
"People who quit drinking and people who lose weight, they think they're better than the people that couldn't," she accuses. "Because you got out of the projects, you think that anybody who didn't is weak and stupid. ... The only difference between me and you is that I made some bad decisions and you made some good ones. "
"I'm not judging you," Foreman says before judging what she's done wrong and what she needs to do to pull her life together. Then he notices her yellow eyes, meaning her liver is shutting down and she's going to die quickly unless they solve her case.
He comes up with a rare cancer, lymphoma granulomatosis, that brilliantly fits the collection of symptoms, and he easily convinces House that total body radiation is the answer. While Chase and Cameron debate against the dangerous method until a diagnosis is confirmed, Foreman points out that she'll be dead before a confirmation is possible. Even if he's wrong, the radiation will act against an autoimmune disease, too, so it's a no-brainer. So he thinks.
He balks at trying to convince her to go with the risky treatment, though, since she doesn't like him. House volunteers. "Foreman's got personality issues so you're going to step in?" Chase asks skeptically.
But House isn't interested in smoothing things over, of course, he's interested in why she dislikes Foreman, who House seems to find the most enigmatic member of his team. "He thinks he's better than he is," she claims, causing House to ask the unanswerable "how good is he?"
Before he can really hammer the point home, that Foreman's just possibly good enough to save her life with this dangerous radiation treatment, she has another loss of free will attack, unable to decide whether to sign the consent, unable to decide between a pen or pencil, unable to decide between Sean Connery or Daniel Craig. I have those kinds of attacks all the time, but I call them being perpetually indecisive. They also don't lead me to pass out and wake up to face total body radiation.
She's right after all: Foreman isn't as good as he and House think he is, not in this instance. A heart murmur and excruciating pain lead them to discover that she's septic, and despite the absence of symptoms of an infection -- no fever, a clear lumbar puncture -- that's what's been attacking her organs. By performing the radiation, the team has destroyed her immune system.
"I'll tell our patient we just killed her," House declares, but Foreman wants to take the responsibility. First, though, he wants advice from the master, so he goes to Wilson. He instructs him on how to carefully calibrate his presentation of the bad news with the patient's needs, and Foreman's amazed at how he's got it down to a science. Calculated compassion is Wilson's secret weapon. This is why he's not the safe choice -- his calm surface hides rocky depths, while House's rockiness is proudly exhibited on the surface.
Even before I realized this will be one of the rare episodes where there will be no further epiphany, it followed the usual pattern enough that I expected one. When Foreman touched her when delivering the bad news, as instructed by Wilson, I half-expected her lack of pain to be a clue. Sadly, there is no last minute save for Lupe.
Omar Epps does a beautiful job in this episode with Foreman's pain and frustration, usually subtly expressed until he punches a wall walking out of Lupe's room. He goes to Cameron for bandaging, but not for moral support. "I killed a woman. Don't you think it's appropriate I feel like crap for at least a little while?" he asks.
Ironically, that cements the fact that Foreman isn't just a mini-House, but shares some of Cameron's viewpoints as well. This scene had shades of her words in the season two premiere "Acceptance," where she claimed that when a good person dies someone should be affected, and put herself in the role of that someone. In this case, Foreman is even more tightly bound to the patient, having caused her death.
As with season one's "Histories," where Foreman dismissed a homeless woman for the same reasons he initially dismissed Lupe, he comes around to sympathy in the end. This time, he recognizes that he was judging Lupe as a distancing mechanism. He tells her about his own bad decisions in the past, and the second chance he got by leaving home.
"If I'm not the smartest, not the first, they'll figure out I'm not supposed to be here," he says. He explains that the last time he was home, his last year of college, when his mother put her arms around him, "that was the last time I felt at home. I only put distance between you and me because I know there isn't any."
She acknowledges her poor life choices, explaining "I always thought I was young, I had time." Foreman reaches out for her hand, and I had to reach out to wipe away my tears, damn him. He sits vigil with her because she has no one else, and she accepts it because she has no one else. Wilson sits vigil with House, and it's hard not to think about the fact that he has no one else, by choice.
Though Foreman has stopped an equally frustrated but not emotionally attached House from performing more tests on Lupe in his quest to solve the mystery, he phones him to give the news that she's died. So House performs an autopsy before Wilson uses his patented technique on her grandparents to inform them of her death and get their consent.
The solution is heartbreakingly ordinary. She scratched herself with a bra hook -- I knew those bloody things were deadly -- and died of a simple but uncharacteristically presented staph infection. "That and some bad decisions," House tells Wilson.
Chase the former seminary student failed to cheer Foreman up with the offer of drinks, so offers instead prayer as his coping mechanism. House less sincerely tells him to turn to religion, or giving alms to the poor, before "comforting" him that he'll kill again, in the same way, because that's the nature of their specialized practice.
It's a battle of the expressive faces as Hugh Laurie and Omar Epps show down across House's desk, both characters despondent over the outcome of their case but differing in their acceptance of the reasons behind it. House repeats the message from "Detox" that they save more lives because of their methods. "You're giving me numbers," Foreman complains. "Because they don't lie," House replies, before saying there's nothing to forgive.
"Guilt is irrelevant," House repeats to Wilson. But he then reveals he's got a dog waiting at home, and what's that about, if not guilt over Bonnie?
I've always thought of the concept of House getting a puppy as a metaphor for House getting soft and cuddly and the show entering a death spiral. But House getting Wilson's cast-away old dog that is, apparently, as cantankerous as House himself, is not that metaphor. This could be interesting.
"House Training" doesn't end on the funny, but the heartbreaking. After rejecting any form of comfort from his colleagues, Foreman goes to his mother, who instantly gives him the forgiveness he craves and wraps him in her arms. Because of her Alzheimer's, she also has no idea who he is or what she's forgiving. The only sense of home he remembers is ripped away, and the anguish of it is apparent on his face, pressed into his uncomprehending mother's shoulder.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Now ... define bitter.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
The interview with Larry Kaplow that was the basis for the Blogcritics article Ending Season Three with a Bang? was much postponed, creating a personal challenge for Jamie the very funny, very nice, very foiled assistant trying to schedule it. It finally happened, ironically, on a Tuesday evening at 9 p.m. Thank god for Eastern time zone FOX.
Anyway, here's an edited transcript of our talk:
DK: Are you still writing the final episode, is that what you're doing now?
LK: Yeah, we actually shot the teaser Saturday night. Tommy [Moran] and I wrote it, and we're just doing some final tweaks and then we start shooting on Friday.
DK: Saturday night seems like an weird time to start shooting.
LK: It is a weird time, but Katie [Jacobs] is directing again and the teaser is extremely ambitious and required an unbelievable amount of prep, so there've been quite a few meetings over the past three weeks.
This is the first time we've had a teaser but no script. We actually wrote the teaser prior to writing the script. We knew what the teaser was going to be, and we had a general idea of what the rest of it was going to be, but because of the preparation necessary to make it look good ... I mean, I think this show really does look phenomenal. It takes time. Katie's been working very closely with [cinematographer] Gale [Tattersall] and we want it to look good.
So we wrote this teaser and all of a sudden there are all these special effects guys and stunt men talking about these crazy things. I'm not going to get into what it is.
DK: You're going to say all that and then you're not going to tell me what it is? I don't like spoilers, though.
LK: Exactly. Since you're a fan of the show I think you'd be pissed if I ruined it for you. I mean, not that it's insane, like Mars blows up, but for our show it's big.
DK: I might be pissed at that for a whole other reason. It's a sci-fi show now.
LK: Well, we needed to go somewhere for the finale. No, I think fans of the show will be pleased.
DK: Can you give any hints on where the finale's going, or is that going to ruin it?
LK: I don't think I should. We've been teeing up a lot of things in the last couple of episodes and those tensions will continue to play out over the next while. I think fans are going to have fun. I think in many ways these have been some of our best episodes yet. We've hit a stride now and every episode that comes out, the writers are all very pleased. It's not easy, but it's very gratifying.
DK: Can you tell me if we're ending on a cliffhanger this year?
DK: He doesn't get shot, does he?
LK: As I said, I believe fans of the show will be pleased.
DK: OK, you're being a little vague.
LK: I'm not doing it intentionally, I just ...
DK: No, no, I don't like spoilers. Any time I've ever indulged I've been disappointed.
LK: Yeah, exactly, so I'm keeping that in mind. I'm not trying to tease at all either.
DK: No, well, I'm the one asking. [Let me summarize: "Tell me! No, don't! Tell me! No!"]
LK: I hope you're not going to say, "Oh my God, he could have told us this, because this sucks."
DK: I doubt it. I'll trust you that it's gonna be big but I don't want to know. I'll move on now. So you're cowriting the finale. Are there any other episodes of yours coming up?
LK: No. I mean, we all have various hands in. I'm sure you can probably tell where some of us pop in and out of episodes, but we try to keep a low profile.
DK: What do your producing duties entail when you're not writing an episode?
LK: It depends. We shape some of the other writers' stories before they get to David [Shore]. It's our responsibility to make sure the outlines and scripts are at a level where, by the time David comes in to look at it, it's good. And some of that isn't an arbitrary bar. You might say, well, so-and-so didn't like this, but I think it's brilliant. On House it's not so arbitrary because the medical stories are very complicated. They need to be told simply so the audience can follow them, and at the same time be a mystery. So they are very difficult to pull off and they take a lot of work. That's our responsibility -- there's Russ [Friend] and Garrett [Lerner], Tommy, Doris [Egan], and me whose responsibility is to look after some of these other stories.
DK: You've been with the show for three seasons now. Is it a struggle to keep finding those medical mysteries or is it becoming second nature to you?
LK: You know what, it is so second nature. It's very hard to explain, but it's almost like you stay buried in a story and then you come up for air and look around the world, maybe you read a newspaper for the first time, and all of a sudden all these stories are leaping at you. It's fun.
This is apropos of nothing, but I'm going to say it anyway. This is when real life and our TV show intersect, and you're floored.
We get excited when we find a really bad disease. We're happy. We're saying "Oooh, someone's spleen can fall out their eyeball. That's fantastic. And it strikes children. This is so cool!" Because for us, it really is great, to find something that plays on all those emotions. But there are real people out there with real diseases, the ones that are on the show, and then we get letters saying thank you so much for showing X.
A friend of mine had brain cancer. This really young guy. He was basically ... he was done. So I put a line in the "Half-Wit" script about Duke, and they got flooded with calls from people who were sick with brain tumours asking if there was hope. And the head of Duke Brain Tumour called, and he said thank you so much for mentioning us on your show, does this have something to do with a relationship with FOX? The Tisch family donated a lot of money to name it [the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center]. And I felt bad because, no. No vertical integration there. It was just that my friend went there and I thought my friend would get a kick out of hearing Duke on the air.
DK: I think your reason's better.
LK: Meanwhile, all these people called looking for answers for their own lives. That's the part that's really strange to me. The writers are just having fun, telling stories. But then because it's a medical show, people sometimes are watching it not just to see the characters and who's kissing who, but for answers. And that's where it sort of makes you ashamed.
DK: Doesn't that put a lot of pressure on you, to know that there's people watching who are going to react that way to your show, or do you not think about that when you're writing?
LK: What it does is it brings responsibility to try to get the medicine right. Sometimes we have these things call hinges, where we move from one area of the body to another. And sometimes we get criticized from doctors who say that would never happen. And the truth is, in your practice that would never happen because this is not the norm, but we have documentation from here backed up to NBC Universal showing that this is possible, this is what can happen. But we can't tell you the 15 steps it took to get there, because that would be really boring. So we talk to [writer and medical consultant David] Foster to get a hinge and then we're good to go.
DK: And you said last time that David Shore is the imprint for the character.
LK: You have to understand: Shore is House. There's no question about it. As much as we all try to approximate it, it's him. There are aspects of all our personalities that we give to House in the stories. I try to put as much of myself into the scripts as possible in terms of meaning. But for Shore, it literally comes through him, that biting ... it's not even sarcasm, it's just truth, it's painful truth, maybe an exaggeration of reality.
DK: It's been about a year and half since our last interview and it seems like it's been a pretty good year and a half for you. You ended up getting a Writers Guild award for "Autopsy" -- what does that kind of recognition mean to you and your career?
LK: Um, I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. I was shocked that I was nominated at all. And thrilled. And thought, well, there's no way. And then getting the award was thrilling.
DK: You signed a development deal too. Did that come out of that recognition?
LK: I don't know. I was surprised anyone was aware of me. I keep my head down and I am truly interested in the work I do. I have such a good time doing it. I am so happy doing it.
That sounds so Pollyanna. Kill me.
DK: It sounded very sweet and genuine.
LK: And earnest, and dripping with ...
DK: OK, say something sarcastic, quick.
LK: I can't even get back on track after that.
DK: This will come across as total ass kissing, but when we did that first interview, I was excited because you'd written some of what I thought were the stand-out episodes. So I don't think I was the only one to notice that.
LK: Thank you.
DK: Now I feel the need to say something sarcastic but it's just not in me, I'm too Canadian [forgetting that so is David Shore and he seems to do just fine]. So, moving on, do you feel the pressure to top what you've done before, to make House nastier or more self-destructive or have a juicier medical mystery?
LK: No, and I think that's borne out in the episodes. If anything, they've become even more real. I think it depends episode to episode, and part of that is mixing it up a little bit for our audience. We try not to give the same thing every single week. Sometimes it'll be a lighter story. The goal of every episode is not to make somebody cry. It's great when you can do both, laugh and cry, or have a good time. There's nothing wrong with coming away from an hour of television saying boy, that was really satisfying, and I didn't cry, and I laughed a couple of times. That's fine too. You're not going to therapy when you watch television.
For me, I don't set out to do something special, I set out to do something cool, that I think is cool. So with "Half-Wit," all I knew was House is going to fake cancer. Literally, that's what I was pitching. I had no idea where that was going to go. And then in various conversations with Foster, we worked it out to be an interesting House story, I think. I hope I'm not trying to top myself. I'm not looking to do that, I'm just looking to tell cool stories.
DK: Do you think we'll see any more aftermath from him faking cancer? That seems like a pretty extreme thing to do.
LK: Yeah. You know what's funny, there was an early cut where we could have very easily just lifted it out of the story and that thing could have gone on for a long time without us resolving it.
DK: You mean the audience thinking he had cancer? That would have been mean.
LK: Yeah, it would have been very mean. But not for long, just maybe a couple of episodes. Because everyone was thinking, there's no way he has cancer. But for an act or so, I think you did. I mean, it happened quickly, so I hope you asked yourself, "where's this going."
DK: That was one of the episodes soon after the Tritter arc, and it doesn't seem like he's learned anything ...
LK: Do you think he ever will?
DK: ... or at least he's learned that he can get away with anything. Do I think he ever will? I think it would ruin the show if he did.
LK: Yeah, I think it would too. I do think he's self aware. I don't think he's in the dark about who he is at all. I think people like to think that deep down he has a heart of gold. Um, no, he doesn't. He really doesn't. And it's cuddly to think that, but he doesn't.
DK: No, but he's got a little gold sprinkled in there. He shows a glimmer of humanity every now and then.
LK: He does have humanity, but it's odd. It may not even be humanity. He gets annoyed at irrational choices, so he will tell the truth rather than a lie to get his way out of a conversation. Mainly for patients -- he'll lie his ass off to colleagues just because it's fun.
This was set up in the pilot. When House comes in to talk to the kindergarten teacher and he convinces her to live, he's not doing that because he's a good guy. He's doing it because he's annoyed with her decision. It's a stupid decision.
Maybe that's humanity. I don't think it is. I think it's illogical, which annoys him, which is why he says death is always ugly to someone who wants to die.
I think that's one of the strengths of the show. Because as soon as House takes someone by the hand and we have Marcus Welby talking, I think the show's dead.
DK: Because he's the hero of the show, some people look at him as a role model.
LK: And not only our characters, some who admire him, some who hold him in some level of contempt. I'm sure there are some doctors out there who think he's a good role model and wish they could talk to patients like he does. But actually it's been my experience with doctors that they're usually pretty frank regarding your health. It's, "Well, you either have cancer or an infection." So I think the shock value that is so stunning in House isn't so unrealistic. Doctors have ... I don't know how many patients they see a week, maybe 400 ... so there's not a lot of time for hand holding.
I guess I'm happy people see him as a role model. I just don't want to be friends with those people.
DK: Has your perspective on the character changed over the three seasons? Do you see him differently now than you did in the early days?
LK: "The early days." Like we were on in 1947.
DK: Yeah, think way back to 2004.
LK: It's been said before that TV characters never really change. They're born in the pilot and we uncover other flavours in them, but who they are is somewhat immoveable. I think we've played with some of the other characters ... not a lot, but a little bit. I think House has been right down the centre, right from the word go. I mean, can you think of any example where we've shown genuine change in him? Where he seems like a different character?
DK: Well, no, not where he seems like a different character. I thought at the beginning he seemed a little more depressed, and he seemed to get more gleefully sarcastic as it went on. This season, it isn't really a change in character so much as a progression of plot, but he used to justify his addiction as allowing him to do his job, and this season we've seen it interfere with his job.
LK: Yeah, we're moving into a different area. We're no longer just talking about pain in his leg, but we're talking about where he is mentally. Wilson is arguing that depression is a chioice, and that for Wilson he chooses not to be, and that House chooses to be.
There was a really cool study a few years ago about how everyone has a default state of being on the spectrum from miserable to happy. If you're normally fairly depressed or bitter and people are telling you to be happy, the stress of people telling you that, and your efforts to try to be happy, can make you more depressed than you would be in your normal state.
DK: You seem to write episodes that are heavy on the Vicodin. What would you say we've learned about his addiction over the past season or two? How has that story evolved?
LK: I do?
DK: Well, in "Detox," and "Distractions," and "Half-Wit" ...
LK: In "Distractions," he took those drugs to prove his former classmate was a moron. So this goes to who House is as a character. I mean, he does like drugs. However, it's also that he's willing to experiment on himself to prove someone wrong. I think "Distractions" shows there are no lengths House will not go to bring this man down, including giving himself a stroke. I think if House ended up with a stroke and was slurring his words and was in a hospital bed unable to move, he would still breathe into a tube and his last words would be, "I was right." And he would smile.
DK: But in that episode, Wilson also said House needs to distract himself from emotional issues as well as physical. And in "Half-Wit" we get him faking brain cancer to get good drugs. You're not seeing this pattern, obviously.
LK: No, I do see it, of course.
DK: So the question is how has it evolved, what have we learned about his addiction?
LK: I think he's become more willing to experiment. We left a good deal of this out of the story, but in order to actually get accepted into a clinical trial, using someone else's MRIs and all that, we're talking weeks and weeks, maybe even months of preparation, taking someone's digital MRI and putting his name on them, making sure the head size is correct, taking various blood samples, going back and forth to Boston. If you really play out what he needed to do, it's a desperate act. Is it a desperate act to feel good? Is it a desperate act to feel normal? I think House would do anything to just be average. And unfortunately he's cursed with a mind that will not allow him to rest. I think that brings about a lot of his pain, forget about his leg.
DK: I'll get into some lighter questions now. Assuming House is the most fun character to write, who's your next favourite?
LK: Probably Wilson. Hugh [Laurie] has always maintained that one day the show will be Wilson, and they'll forget all about this wise cracking doctor, what's his name, he took Vicodin or something. He's said that Wilson was the real show. That's typical self-deprecating Hugh, but at the same time, it is a lot of fun to mess with Wilson. And it's fun to watch Wilson try to keep up, and the two of them torment each other. There's an episode coming up that Pam Davis wrote that I think is one of the funniest we've done with their relationship.
So probably House and Wilson, and then ... do you want me to go down the list? Yes, and then you know what we should do, let's make a chart with hearts on it, and then let's send it to all the actors.
DK: We should. They'll love you after that. By the time you get to the end of the list, that actor's going to be pissed.
LK: You know what's funny though, I don't feel that way. I mean, it's a procedural, so there are various aspects to each character that are necessary to tell the story. We try to maximize that, and we try to use everyone as much as possible in every show.
Other shows have a billion characters and they seem to service them just fine. We find it very difficult to tell deep stories in a couple of lines per act per character. So even though there are only six characters in the show, plus a guest cast, it's really hard to work them all in, in 59 pages.
So in every story, we try to focus on a different character, still giving everyone else their fair due. You find different things to play with and to bring out in each of them. You fall in love with all of them. You really do.
DK: Do the actors give you any input into their characters? Are they pitching storylines to you?
LK: Yeah, on occasion. It's fun to listen to what they have to say. It's fun being on set. I love the production experience and working with them. It's really satisfying after working on a script. I'm always pretty blue around the second-to-last day because it's coming to an end. I have so much fun on the set and being with them. These people are in your head while you're writing the scripts, and then you watch them move around and they do it in ways you weren't even thinking.
It's lonely when you're in your room and not with them. But then if I was down there all the time I would go insane. I don't know how they do it.
DK: There's a lot of pressure on set?
LK: Well, the pressure is the clock. It's always an effort to finish the show on time, and the shows are tricky. It would be one thing if we didn't care.
DK: That would make everything easier.
LK: It really would, if we didn't care about the scripts or the stories: "You know what, the third act doesn't work, but it's good enough." That's one thing that's really great, that the process is so rigorous. Out of 24 episodes, which is so many episodes to do in one year, there's not too many clunkers.
DK: For another frivolous question, there's battle lines between the Cameron lovers and the Cuddy lovers over who gets House. Which team are you on?
LK: Well, frankly, neither. I think both of them have qualities that are interesting to House. He likes aspects of them. But long term, I don't see him with either.
DK: Last time my really stupid question was about the ball on House's desk ...
LK: Oh my god, you're going to bring it right back.
DK: No, I've given up.
LK: I've got nothing. I have no idea what it is.
DK: I knew it. It's a dog toy, it's a big tennis ball, no one knows. No, but this time my stupid question is, is there a McGill connection on the show?
LK: Yes, but how do you know that?
DK: Well, when I met you at the Paley festival you were wearing a McGill cap, and then Wilson wore a McGill sweatshirt in an episode soon after that, and since it's a Canadian university it stuck in my head.
LK: I'm not sure if Pam [Davis] actually went there or not, I don't think she did, but she brought back the hats. She's from Canada. We have four writers from Canada, David, Pam, Leonard [Dick] and David Hoselton. So I'm almost positive she brought back the McGill hats. I lost mine at the airport. I really loved that hat.
DK: She must have brought a sweatshirt, too.
LK: I don't know. Maybe he went there.
DK: I think that's the assumption now. Well, that was my dumb question and you actually answered it this time. That makes me feel good. I had nothing else. Was there anything you wanted to add?
LK: Yes, I wanted to ask you, how has your watching experience changed over the past few years? Obviously if you take the time to do this it must be one of the shows of however many you watch regularly. Did you like it more at the beginning, do you like it more now?
DK: [Hey, I wasn't expecting to be interviewed, so expect some incoherence here.] Well, it's the only show I watch this regularly. It's certainly the only show I take the time to write about regularly [besides Intelligence, which I forgot about because it hasn't been on for a while and has a season that's half as long, and he probably wouldn't have heard of it anyway, though orange guy from the House pilot has a recurring role]. So obviously it's still my favourite show.
My viewing experience has changed partly because of that whole particle physics thing, where observing something changes it. [Huh? Oh well, go with it.] I mean, the first season I was purely a fan, I just watched the show and loved it and it was the first time I'd done the whole "oh, I have to talk about this on the Internet with complete strangers thing" because no one I knew was watching it. Those were the dark days when the ratings weren't great. When I started doing the episode reviews, my experience changed a little because now I'm watching it differently than I used to, more critically, because I'm thinking about writing about it.
I try to make this clear when I'm writing, but even if an episode wasn't my favourite, I say a bad episode of House is better than a good episode of most other shows. So yeah, it's still holding my interest consistently.
[To answer the actual question, you can't beat that first year's giddiness of getting to know the characters and the show, but while each season has its highs and lows, I thought the second season was overall a stronger one, and the third is close to maintaining that level for me -- I'll reserve a final comparison until it's over.]
LK: What do you hope for? You know, other than to be surprised and entertained?
DK: I think you guys do a great job at that. The one critique it's always gotten is that it's formulaic, and I think that's an unfair criticism, especially in the last couple of seasons. You do a lot of things outside of the formula, and even within the formula there's always things that are unexpected but then make complete sense once you have all the pieces.
But what I hope for, I don't know, I guess a continuation of the same. I tend to lose interest in shows when the main cast start pairing off and everyone's slept with everyone else, so I really don't want to see House get together with Cuddy or Cameron [though, I should add, I do want to see him continue to flirt with both]. I like the idea of bringing in fresh blood.
LK: Cool. Well, I'll be very interested to hear what you think after the finale airs.
DK: I'm very curious. It's got a lot to live up to now.
LK: Uh oh.
Lawrence Kaplow is obstinately tight-lipped about the House season three finale, scheduled to air May 29. He does reveal that he co-wrote it with Thomas Moran; that the teaser was conceived before the rest of the episode, shot before the episode was fully written, and took considerable preparation, special effects, and stunt men; that executive producer Katie Jacobs, who'd directed for the first time on the Kaplow-penned "Half-Wit," was directing this one, too; and that the rest of the episode started filming on Friday.
But will he give me any hints what it's about? "I don't think I should." Will it end on a cliffhanger? "Hmmm." Does someone shoot House? "I think fans will be pleased."
So what did I get out of him? About that intricate teaser: "It's not insane, like Mars blows up, but for our show, it's big."
I ponder the headline "Mars Does Not Blow Up in House Finale" as an a propos line from the last episode runs through my head: "I asked you what two plus two equals, and a day later you tell me 'not 25.' "
Perhaps my tactical error was to beg for details while warning him repeatedly that I hate spoilers. Hard to say, though.
Write What You Know: "There are aspects of all our personalities that we give to House."
"You have to understand: Shore is House," Kaplow says, explaining the sense of humour of show creator David Shore, and, therefore, of his indelible character. "It's not even sarcasm, it's just truth, it's painful truth, maybe an exaggeration of reality."
But not surprisingly, Kaplow seems to have a Housian streak of his own. Stubbornness might be part of it. So might sarcasm.
When our interview is scheduled for 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, he asks if I have TiVo. My way-too-literal, brand-phobic brain answers: "Yes. Well, the Canadian version." His reply: "Canadian TiVo ... what's that, a VCR?" He toys with me as I flounder in trying to frame a question about his string of addiction-exploring episodes. He mocks me for asking him to recall the early days, "like we were on in 1947." And, as with House's wit, it kept me laughing on a Tuesday evening.
Yet he reveals a humility and humanity that House would scorn, and that even causes Kaplow some lighthearted self-flagellation. He worries he's heightened my expectations after that finale build-up. "I hope you're not going to say, 'Oh my God, he could have told us this, because this sucks.' "
"I was surprised anyone was aware of me. I keep my head down and I am truly interested in the work I do. I have such a good time doing it. I am so happy doing it." He pauses. "That sounds so Pollyanna. Kill me."
Fiction Versus Reality: "This is when real life and our TV show intersect, and you're floored."
He even berates himself for digressing after he tells me the most touching and insightful anecdote of the interview.
"We get excited when we find a really bad disease. We're happy. We're saying 'Oooh, someone's spleen can fall out their eyeball. That's fantastic. And it strikes children. This is so cool!' Because for us, it really is great to find something that plays on all those emotions," he starts. "But there are real people out there with real diseases, the ones that are on the show, and then we get letters saying thank you."
There was a quick line in "Half-Wit," the episode where House fakes cancer to score drugs, mentioning a clinical trial at Duke University. The line was a shout-out to Kaplow's friend, who had been a patient at Duke and who he thought would get a kick out of hearing it mentioned on air. "They got flooded with calls from people who were sick with brain tumours asking if there was hope," he marvels.
"The writers are just having fun, telling stories. But then because it's a medical show, people sometimes are watching it not just to see the characters and who's kissing who, but for answers. And that's where it sort of makes you ashamed."
That intersection between fiction and reality hammers home the importance of working with the medical consultants, including staff writer and doctor David Foster.
"It brings responsibility to try to get the medicine right," Kaplow says, before explaining the constraints of television. "Sometimes we get criticized from doctors who say that would never happen. And the truth is, in your practice that would never happen because this is not the norm, but we have documentation from here backed up to NBC Universal showing that this is possible, this is what can happen. But we can't tell you the 15 steps it took to get there, because that would be really boring."
Despite the accolades and the sense of responsibility, Kaplow feels no pressure to top himself. "I don't set out to do something special, I set out to do something cool," he says, revealing that "Half-Wit" was born out of the idea that he'd like to see House fake cancer. It then took conversations with Foster to get a medical story to make it work.
As a producer on the show, he has a hand in scripts other than those with his name on them, and he explains how tricky it is to shape the medical stories. "They need to be told simply so the audience can follow them, and at the same time be a mystery. So they are very difficult to pull off and they take a lot of work."
Shaping the season is part of the job, too. "We try not to give the same thing every single week. Sometimes it'll be a lighter story. The goal of every episode is not to make somebody cry," Kaplow points out. "You're not going to therapy when you watch television."
He is one of a handful of writers who have been with the show since those early days, way back in 2004, but he hasn't reached a point where he's desperately hunting for medical oddities to feed House's appetite for a mystery. "You stay buried in a story and then you come up for air and look around the world, maybe you read a newspaper for the first time, and all of a sudden all these stories are leaping at you."
When we spoke, he was coming up for air after putting the final touches on the last script of the season. While he won't even give a clue as to what it's about (not that I'm bitter), he will say the show has hit a stride with the final run of episodes. "I think fans are going to have fun," he promises. I'm going to go out on a short limb and guess that this won't be one of those lighter episodes, though.
The Heart of House: "I guess I'm happy people see him as a role model. I just don't want to be friends with those people."
My floundering question about how we've seen House's drug use progress through the seasons leads him to point out that "we're no longer just talking about pain in his leg, but we're talking about where he is mentally. Wilson is arguing that depression is a choice, and that for Wilson he chooses not to be, and that House chooses to be."
Starting with the season two finale, we've looked deeper into the man who maybe sees his medical skills as a pass into a world where he doesn't fit, who maybe clings to his misery as a sign of his superiority. We saw in "No Reason" -- co-written by Shore and Kaplow -- that he would give up his brilliance for a shot at normalcy. Then in "Half-Wit" we saw he would make a similar choice for a patient.
So with that knowledge, his sympathy-pushing actions to score drugs by faking cancer take on a more poignant overtone.
"Is it a desperate act to feel good? Is it a desperate act to feel normal?" Kaplow asks. "House would do anything to just be average. And unfortunately he's cursed with a mind that will not allow him to rest. I think that brings about a lot of his pain, forget about his leg."
We've seen House forced to question his strict adherence to rationality over emotion. We've seen him briefly cured of his pain and his limp. We've seen him in rehab and in jail. And yet, he remains the same old House.
As he must, Kaplow asserts. "It's been said before that TV characters never really change. They're born in the pilot and we uncover other flavours in them, but who they are is somewhat immovable."
One of House's immovable traits is his stubbornness (but I bet he would have given me a clue about the finale). You can't say he's not true to himself, even if that self is not always admirable. He almost defiantly refuses to change, even having difficulty with small-scale normalcy like getting a pizza with a friend, or going on vacation.
Kaplow brings up the possibility that change might not be the answer anyway. "There was a really cool study a few years ago about how everyone has a default state of being on the spectrum from miserable to happy," he recounts. "If you're normally fairly depressed or bitter and people are telling you to be happy, the stress of people telling you that, and your efforts to try to be happy, can make you more depressed than you would be in your normal state."
Because House can't be normal, it seems he exuberantly embraces his misery and superiority. Referring to the abrasive doctor's drug-experimentation revenge on a former classmate in his season two episode "Distractions," Kaplow stresses the bigger lesson about his character. "I think if House ended up with a stroke and was slurring his words and was in a hospital bed unable to move, he would still breathe into a tube and his last words would be, 'I was right.' And he would smile."
That doesn't mean House isn't affected at all by these challenges to his point of view. "I do think he's self aware. I don't think he's in the dark about who he is at all," Kaplow responds to the critique that he hasn't learned anything. "I think people like to think that deep down he has a heart of gold. Um, no, he doesn't. He really doesn't."
He even balks at the suggestion that House shows glimmers of humanity, calling it an "odd" sort of humanity. "He gets annoyed at irrational choices, so he will tell the truth rather than a lie to get his way out of a conversation."
"This was set up in the pilot," he recalls. "When House comes in to talk to the kindergarten teacher and he convinces her to live, he's not doing that because he's a good guy. He's doing it because he's annoyed with her decision. It's a stupid decision. Maybe that's humanity. I don't think it is. I think it's illogical, which annoys him, which is why he says death is always ugly to someone who wants to die."
Beyond House: "It's a procedural, so there are various aspects to each character that are necessary to tell the story."
House is clearly the centrepiece of the series, but he's well-served by a diversity of secondary characters. Kaplow admits to a special fondness for Wilson, a fondness he shares with the show's lead actor.
"Hugh [Laurie] has always maintained that one day the show will be Wilson, and they'll forget all about this wise cracking doctor, what's his name, he took Vicodin or something. He's said that Wilson was the real show," Kaplow laughs. "That's typical self-deprecating Hugh, but at the same time, it is a lot of fun to mess with Wilson. And it's fun to watch Wilson try to keep up, and the two of them torment each other."
But "you fall in love with all of them," he says of the characters he puts down on paper and sees come to life on-set through the talent of the actors playing them. "These people are in your head while you're writing the scripts, and then you watch them move around, and they do it in ways you weren't even thinking."
And what exactly are they doing on-set at the moment, shooting the finale? "Since you're a fan of the show I think you'd be pissed if I ruined it for you."
So he won't tell me how the season ends, or even how its special-effects laden teaser begins, but he will say this: "We've been teeing up a lot of things in the last couple of episodes and those tensions will continue to play out over the next while."
Yeah, that's not vague at all. I can promise you this: Mars does not blow up. Earth, now -- he didn't say anything about Earth.
Click here for the Q&A of our talk.
For tomorrow I'll post it here with the Q&A version, where you will see that it's partly my own damn fault he wouldn't tell me anything about the finale, plus a few more tidbits on highly important topics like the Ball of Unknown Origin (aka That Damn Ball), the mysterious McGill connection, and whether he's picking sides for Team Cuddy or Team Cameron.
That'll be instead of a same-day review, since I won't be home Tuesday evening. The review will come Wednesday or Thursday.
Any non-House fans will probably have to wait even longer than that for posts that don't contain the words "Hugh Laurie" in them.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
The Robson Arms season finale was last night, and I really liked that show overall. To me, each episode is like a mini relationship drama, with humour in various sized doses, so the is-it-comedy-or-is-it-drama thing didn't bother me at all. And even though it's only half an hour, and each relationship only got one or two episodes in the spotlight, you learn a lot about the characters - it's economical storytelling. The finale ended with wordless scenes of the other characters you hadn't seen in the episode that told you a lot about their ultimate fates. I might just watch the first season now.
I like having another Canadian show to root for. Which means they'll probably cancel it.
Season one's on DVD and online.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Back to our original programming.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Network anchors often behave as if they are the nation’s grief counselors. One reason that [ABC's Charles] Gibson has been gaining in the ratings could be that he acts like the nation’s newsman.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I love an episode title that bodes well for juvenile antics from House. Though I suppose any episode title bodes well for juvenile antics from House. "Act Your Age" is full of fun character moments and reinvention's of relationships, and brings us a phrase coming soon to a t-shirt near you: "Never is just reven spelled backwards." However, although there were satisfying twists along the way, the medical mystery's final unraveling, related to the father's use of a male enhancement cream, left me as limp as ... well, I won't go there. I'll be a mature adult.
The episode takes its title from the miniature patient of the week, six-year-old Lucy, who has the symptoms of a much older woman, including heart problems, arthritis, and a stroke, stemming from her abnormally thick blood. Her older brother Jasper would seem to be your typical eight-year-old boy, at least one who recently lost his mother to brain cancer and is therefore acting out, getting into fights at school, disobeying his father, picking on his sister, and developing a Chase-sized crush on Cameron, complete with stolen flowers for his beloved.
Cameron and Chase could take a lesson from the episode title. After Cameron abruptly ended their no-strings-attached sexual arrangement once Chase started developing strings, they can't stop sniping at each other. Who would have guessed that a friends-with-benefits arrangement could go so badly between coworkers? Anyone with a brain, that's who. House of course loves the latest development, since it allows him to torture the ex-lovers further by throwing them together at every opportunity.
An even greater non-surprise is that House isn't immune from the childish antics in "Act Your Age." He and Wilson get into a twisted mind game involving Cuddy that I'm not sure either of them won. It all begins when House offers Wilson tickets to a play, a gift from a grateful patient who apparently decided a lawsuit for emotional distress wasn't the way to go since House saved his life, after all. House refuses to go with Wilson: "You thought this was a date? ... Dudes only go to plays if they're dragged by women they want to see naked." Wilson drags Cuddy, which fuels House's puerile mischievousness and his suppressed jealousy.
There's a lot of badly suppressed jealousy in "Act Your Age," an indication that the root of the age-inappropriateness in the episode comes down to sex - something that's never particularly surprising on this show. Wilson toys with House, letting him believe he slept with Cuddy, watching House's tortured reaction, then admitting he was kidding. House toys with Wilson, but in doing so, is the author of his own barely hidden jealousy.
He sends Wilson flowers and a suggestive note under Cuddy's name, then encourages him in his plan to barge into her office and kiss her. After all, as Wilson says, he'll either gain a girlfriend or lose a job. Shrug. But immediately after making his grand exit to sweep the lady off her feet, Wilson barges back into House's office to berate him for letting him go off to make such an obviously idiotic move. Their use of reverse psychology reversed is enough to make your head spin, but it's a pleasantly loopy feeling.
Chase is pathetically jealous of the eight-year-old, and Cameron just as pathetically encourages that jealousy. She's also unreasonably pissed. When they're forced to search Lucy's home for evidence of environmental reasons for her symptoms, Chase points out: "You dumped me. You don't get to be mad." It's sort of a sweet scene as they're poking around under the girl's bed, lying side by side with the dust bunnies as they try to fix things between them. Cameron replies almost kindly: "We had a really good thing. You broke the rules. I'm angry. I'll get over it." They not only take a step towards rapprochement, they find what could be a key to the case: a bloody t-shirt stuffed in a vent.
The first theory is abuse, though the father denies it and an examination of the girl doesn't quite substantiate it. When it turns out the blood is menstrual blood, and the cuts Cameron found were caused by Lucy trying to shave her precocious pubic hair, the answer is that Lucy has been exposed to massive amounts of hormones that have led to her symptoms. As for what's causing the massive amounts of hormones, the team can't quite get 2+2 to equal 4.
Foreman is exasperated with Chase and Cameron for bringing their personal lives into his work place since he hasn't yet learned to embrace the fun surrounding those personal weaknesses, like his mentor has. He also thinks Chase is an idiot for taking Cameron at her word, that she has no feelings for him. "She's either emotionally detached or she's lying. Which sounds more like Cameron?" Chase confronts her in another sweet scene that is interrupted by the next medical twist that offers the team a clue to solving the case. Jasper bites Chase in a fit of jealousy, allowing House to make the connection that the boy has too much testosterone in his system, so is afflicted by the same problem as his sister.
Cameron proves Foreman's point by exercising her empathy skills on Lucy's father. All of the team's theories on an environmental or genetic source of the hormone imbalance have been eliminated, leaving brain surgery on the pituitary as the only option, in her opinion, though adamantly not in House's. He's appalled that she plays "the dead husband card" to get the father to agree to a treatment before they've answered the question of why both siblings would be affected.
Fortunately, House uses his deductive reasoning and snooping-into-personal-lives skills to figure out that dad is having an affair with the kids' daycare teacher before the surgery proceeds. To keep up with his younger woman, he's been using something he might have bought from a spam e-mail, a cream whose hormones have leached through his skin and into his kids. It was a bit of a reach for me, and the turns to get to the end of the road seemed more interesting than the destination itself, but it did allow for another great Housian moment.
Dad: If I stop using it?
House: You'll be floppy. They'll be fine. [Sees Jasper picking on his sister.] He'll still be eight.
Since their heart-to-heart moment was so rudely interrupted by a teeth-to-arm moment, Chase decides to continue his conversation with Cameron by leaving her (unstolen) flowers. She is touched, but reiterates her position that she doesn't want a relationship with him. "I know," he says. Considering the guy's dad died, and he's had money issues, and he's been horribly picked on by House, this seems wrong, but I've never felt as much compassion for the guy, and never rooted for him as much. He's using his brain rather than his floppy parts, and laying some long-term groundwork in the pursuit of what he wants. And who can resist a guy bearing flowers, after all?
House has not quite as many social skills as Chase, but that doesn't prevent Cuddy from trying to talk seriously with him about how hard relationships are, especially when you add the May-December aspect, as they watch dad, kids, and young girlfriend walk out of the hospital.
After telling Wilson that men only invite women to plays when they want to see them naked, and after his hilariously conflicted jealousy over Wilson asking Cuddy to a play, and after "Top Secret" where we learned what we learned about House and Cuddy, there's a lot behind House's final invitation to Cuddy: "I got tickets to a play."
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Funny, funny boy.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Sunday, April 15, 2007
The book benefits greatly from the participation of the series creators, Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell, as well as star James Garner and others who contributed to the show's success, such as writer/producer David Chase (Sopranos).
Author Ed Robertson draws on interviews, archive material, candid photographs from the set, and an exhaustive look at each episode to create the more-than-definitive guide to the show that aired on NBC from 1974-1980, winning five Emmys and spawning a series of TV movies on CBS in the 1990s.
All the episode information is presented in a skimmable format, with a comprehensive table of contents guiding readers through the book. So it remains accessible to the most casual Rockford fan and to those interested in a slice of television history, while aiming to satisfy even the rabidest of rabid fans.
Robertson includes minutia that only those die-hard Rockford fanatics would care about. For example, the episode descriptions contain a Rockford Fun heading that presents information that is far from fun, but is instead a fairly tedious account of all the insider names that were used on the series. It seems every writer, producer, actor's assistant, and possibly director's mailman's sister-in-law was used as inspiration for naming background characters. And Robertson lists every last one. More fun is the inclusion of every answering machine message that began the episodes.
The skimmable format makes it easy to bypass that kind of detail, and also means there's some repetition in the facts presented from section to section. It works best as a reference book rather than a cover-to-cover read, though the season analyses do offer the behind-the-scenes story of the series.
A top 20 show in its first season, the ratings plummeted when, Robertson argues, the show lost its footing. While he maintains it regained that creative footing, it never managed to regain the ratings ground. The Rockford Files aired in a far different television landscape than we have today, when a 19.9 rating - a number American Idol doesn't reach now - meant falling in the middle of the heap.
Robertson is an unabashed fan of the show, and sometimes comes across as an apologist for it and for Garner, who was reported to have clashed with creator Huggins, causing him to leave the series after its first year, and who was later embroiled in lawsuits with the network after being unable to complete the sixth season.
But Robertson never completely loses the critical perspective, though it's supplemented with a fair amount of admitted assumptions and guess work about what actually happened in some of the behind-the-scenes maneuverings. Most rewardingly, he makes a solid case for The Rockford Files influential place in television history, with roots in the anti-hero of Maverick - also created by Roy Huggins, and played by James Garner - and inspiring the anti-heroes we see on television today, including Rockford writer David Chase's Tony Soprano.
Robertson grasps the key to the series' fresh take: "At a time when network TV was saturated with flatfoots and gumshoes, Rockford took all the cliches and turned them inside out." His book provides an entertaining and exhaustive look at that process.
Now that David Letterman has celebrated his 25th year on air and his 60th birthday, I guess he's no longer the upstart young late night host. Yes, I know, everyone else figured that out at least a decade ago, but I haven't watched much late night TV for about that long.
I remember the days when my friends and I, inspired by the Friends episode, came up with our own list of five celebrities we'd be allowed to sleep with without our boyfriends getting upset. Letterman was on mine. Hey, it was years ago, and women really do find a sense of humour and intelligence attractive. Now, well, he's old. (Also on the list? John Cusack, David Duchovny, David E. Kelley, and ... someone else. Hmm, this woman also seems to find Davids attractive.)
I also remember the day I got to see his show in person. This was in 1993, days after the car bombing of the World Trade Centre, when I was living in New Brunswick and a couple of friends and I drove down to Boston and New York on a break from work.
Dave was in the waning days of his NBC contract; it had already been announced that he was moving to CBS for an obscene amount of money. (One of my favourite segments from the early CBS years was when some of Dave's staff were "hypnotized" and one moaned about his boss's salary increase: "You could give me a million dollars and you'd still have THIRTEEN MILLION DOLLARS.")
We hadn't planned the trip in advance, so we lined up early at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for stand-by tickets. All of us in the line got in - this wasn't the peak of his popularity, it wasn't the peak of tourist season, and the guest lineup was not at the peak of spectacular.
Letterman came out before the taping began to warm up the crowd, engaging in some lighthearted banter with the audience. There was an exchange with a woman named Meredith that ended up being a moment in the show itself - during the monologue, Dave randomly shouted "Party at Meredith's!" while the camera panned to her. We in the audience loved the shoutout, but I had to wonder how puzzled the people watching at home must have been.
After a wacky segment on rejected products, like the Phil Donahue head cotton-ball dispenser, Raquel Welch was the first guest. Dave was in fawning mode, but I remember being less than impressed with her intellect, though she was probably just trying to be cute. She made an unfortunate if appropriate mispronunciation of Joey Buttafuoco's name, calling him "Joey Buttafucko." I'd never heard of the second guest, Nigel Mansell, but he was a race car driver and Dave is a race car nut, and he had a sense of humour, so the interview was lighter and much more fun.
These were the dark days before YouTube - in fact, the days when only early adopters had e-mail, and Al Gore had barely started to invent the World Wide Web - but one friend's mother taped the show for us. I hung onto that tape for years, until accidentally recording something over it. Sadly, YouTube hasn't come through for me with clips of that particular episode.
This year, Letterman kept things low-key for his anniversary and birthday. Drew Barrymore wouldn't dare do something like this to a birthday guy who's had heart surgery:
And there was no anniversary fanfare, like there was for his 10th:
But I've got my fond memories of being at his show, even if YouTube doesn't.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
It sounds like a cool service for those who have pretty or at least legible writing. I type so people don't have to decipher my chicken scratch.
Now, what shall I do with this new Whiteboard font? Um, this is probably pretty much it.
Heather Havrilesky of Salon talks about how freeing it is to understand that "men and women come from different planets, both of them spilling over with their own distinct clichés":
Eventually we figure it out: "I already have to spend the rest of my life with me, why would I want to spend the rest of my life with another person who's just like me? Isn't one of me enough?" Ask any gay man: Communing with a like-minded soul mate is no walk in the park. Better to cohabitate with a complete alien whose odd habits and non sequiturs confuse and confound you, since these endless differences will distract you from your own flaws, thus freeing you up to luxuriate in the comfort of self-righteous indignation for the balance of your days on Earth. Dr. Phil be damned: Intimacy is a small price to pay for always being right!
In case there's any doubt in your mind, she means women are always right.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
There's something in the air this week on House: House. "Airborne" (alternate title: "Snarks on a Plane"?) takes him out of the hospital and into an even more confined space as he and Cuddy fly back from a conference in Singapore, where he gave a three-minute speech and nearly made up for not taking a vacation last episode.
Cuddy: The room service thing was just spiteful.
House: I was hungry.
Cuddy: $300 for a bottle of wine.
House: I was thirsty.
Cuddy: $120 on video services.
House: I was lonely.
It's fine, though, because he made up for the frivolous $500 he expensed by downgrading Cuddy's ticket to coach while he luxuriates in first class. He kindly offers to trade with her when the passenger next to him loses his lunch and the flight attendant calls for a doctor. "I'll get her," he says.
On the ground, we meet the other patient of the week, sweet, dumpy Fran (Jenny O'Hara, who looked familiar to you because she has guest starred on every show ever made). Fran lives with her sweet cat in a sweet house and is getting ready to have a guaranteed sweet time - twice - with a sweet prostitute. I wonder if she uses the same dial-a-hooker agency House does? The festivities are dampened when Fran passes out at the sight of Robin in leather. While Robin's about to make an exit with the money, the cat's stern gaze inspired her to do the right thing and call for an ambulance. Cats and Cameron - useful as moral compasses.
The set up to the episode was highly promising, with two parallel medical mysteries, with Wilson trying to play House and corral the argumentative ducklings, with House and Cuddy trapped together, Cuddy's life seemingly in House's hands, and House creating a makeshift diagnostic department complete with stand-in ducklings. Poor emasculated Chase is replaced by a kid whose task is to agree with everything House says. Foreman's Doppelganger, who is told to disagree with everything, doesn't speak English - and it doesn't matter in the slightest. Cameron's replacement, who House assigns the job of being morally outraged at everything he says, is described in the episode media release as Sour Faced Girl.
The episode itself didn't quite live up to that promise, though there were enough great moments to keep "Airborne," um, aloft. (I think I'm done with the bad puns now.)
Fran is not quite the soft, sweet woman she appears at first. After collapsing with more seizures in the clinic, she tries to sell Wilson a story about visiting her sister in Duluth. He notes her un-Duluth-like recent tattoo, and extracts the confession that she actually went to Caracas, where she did drugs off a gay man and had sex with another called El Gordo, all in an attempt to seize the day after her 58th birthday - the age at which her mother died. Robin the hooker, whose feline lesson in doing the right thing has brought out her requisite heart of gold, seems suddenly impressed.
Wilson is a poor substitute for House, even saying "please" after ordering the team to do their tests, but he does throw in the familiar request that they search the patient's house. Chase and Cameron oblige, but the bed proves slightly more appealing than poking around for toxins, so they continue their no-complications sex arrangement under the watchful eye of the cat. You just know it's all going to go wrong now.
After going through diagnoses like cancer and a brain bleed, Chase gets the aha moment when he realizes everything comes down to the cat. He remembers the animal's food bowl was full, deduces that lack of appetite was a symptom for Fran too, and researches the home with an eye towards finding a toxin rather than a good time. He finds a dead cat and a connection to the house next door, which had been fumigated. Of course his phone call comes just in time to stop the unnecessary surgery. "I thought I was being punished for going away, but really I was being punished for coming home," laments Fran. There's a lesson in there: a wild weekend in Caracas beats a weekend at home, maybe.
So Chase is the hero, and House missed it entirely. Instead, he's got a 12-year-old boy replacement for Chase who sort of comes up with the aha moment for the airborne patient of the week.
Cuddy suspected meningitis and wanted the plane turned around before it spread. House suspected food poisoning and convinced the flight attendant to carry on. Then, more passengers - including Cuddy - were affected with the same vomiting and rash.
When the food poisoning theory proves to be wrong, he does a lumbar puncture made all the more dangerous by not having the right equipment, taking place in a shaking plane, and being performed by a man who has minions to do those kinds of tasks for him normally. It's successful anyway, and negative, so that plus Cuddy's rage makes House realize the "contagious" disease is actually mass hysteria, which affects women more than men. "I know it sounds sexist, but science says you're weak and soft. What can I do?"
Cuddy's miracle cure was one major disappointment for me. I admit, I wanted a more dramatic effort on his part to save her, maybe involving pressing a cold cloth to her fevered brow, and a few moments of doubt and angst while desperately trying to save her life. I know, it's cheesy, but when he was examining and sniffing her it was oddly hot, while undeniably creepy at the same time.
Anyway, he's wrong again with his theory that the man has swallowed a condom full of cocaine which is now seeping into his system. "You think he's a mule," Cuddy says. "I think he's a jackass," House confirms. But as he prepares to do improvised, unanaesthetized surgery with the help of his pseudo-ducklings, House notices that when the Chase clone pressed on the man's joints, his pain subsides.
The discovery of a scuba certification card and trip receipt confirms a diagnosis of the bends, and the treatment requires no blood loss, just lowering the plane until they can club baby seals out the windows. House's brilliance charms the flight attendant, who lets him know she's in New York frequently. His brilliance does not charm Cuddy, who refuses to let him claim he saved her life, and responds to his "you're mean" by exasperatedly saying that's how she compensates for being soft and weak. There's probably a grain of truth in that in general, if not in this case specifically.
It's not the women in this episode that are soft and weak, either. Wilson's both puzzled and impressed that Robin compassionately stuck with Fran so she didn't have to be alone. Maybe he interpreted that as neediness, so when he calls to let her know Fran will be fine, he clumsily asks Robin out. I can only hope he hasn't deduced that she's a hooker. Either way, he's not a well-adjusted man, however shiny his veneer is.Cameron has gotten a lot more adventurous since her apparent rejection of the carpe diem philosophy in "Hunting," throwing herself into the friends-with-benefits deal with Chase. I guess it's better than dial a hooker. But Chase wants more, and lets himself be vulnerable enough to tell her so. She's also gotten a lot colder, so at that, she ends their deal with a cruel: "It was fun. That's it. And now it's over." But is she mean to compensate for her softness? We'll see. I doubt the repercussions are over for either one of them, or rather, as Foreman feared, any of them.