Saturday, May 28, 2005

Transcendent television

Recently I was blown away by an episode of my current TV obsession. I love House. It appeals to me beyond rational thought ... which I suppose could be a definition of love. And as with true love, I am not blind to its faults, but they don't take away from the attraction.

It's generally formulaic. The writers tend to be better at witty, intelligent dialogue and creating the character of Dr. Gregory House than overall plot, medical realism, and secondary character consistency. It neglects intriguing characters played by strong actors in favour of more screen time for those who look like they stumbled in from The O.C. set.

But the dialogue and the central character, played to astonishing perfection by Hugh Laurie, plus its emotional depths and thoughtful, complex exploration of issues, are more than enough to make this my favourite show since the early seasons of Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing. Even so, I didn't expect that it had “Three Stories” in it.

Talking with a friend after that penultimate episode of its first season, I mentioned it was now at the top of my list of best episodes of any television show, ever. “What else is on your list?” my friend innocently asked, causing me to stammer and backpedal and say, well, I don't have an actual list, you know, but “Three Stories” tops my hypothetical list.

Written by David Shore, the inventive episode delved into the past of Dr. House, revealing some of the source of his current bitterness without tying his personality up in a nice bow. House gives a lecture to med students, describing three cases of patients presenting with leg pain to illustrate a lesson not just in diagnostics, but in the frightening power and consequence of choice – intertwining the stories in a surreal, comedic way. Not until midway through the episode do we realize that one of the patients is House himself, and after following this compelling and complex character all season, this is a big payoff moment. The stunning power and pathos of the episode was seemlessly blended with the clever and silly humour, and the nonlinear structure supported it all perfectly.

David Shore also created and executive produces the show, and leads the writing team. But he didn't need any of that extraneous talent to become my next Sorkin-like idol. Writing this episode alone cements his place on a pedestal.


"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
- Rudyard Kipling