Dr. House, LLB

I might be the only David Shore fan who hadn’t seen this yet, but it’s one of the better profiles of the House creator. Shinan Govani of the National Post just quoted from last issue’s University of Toronto alumni magazine, tipping me off to its existence:

David Shore, the Canuck behind TV’s House, says this of his alter-ego, Hugh Laurie … : ‘‘I like to think that he is a bigger asshole than I am. I like to think that I’m not an ­asshole.”

(I’ve edited the full expletives back in, since this is not a family newspaper. And of course he was not referring to Hugh Laurie but Dr. House.) I have to say, I had no intention of approaching Shore at the Banff World Television Festival a couple of years ago, given his self-described reputation as a socially acceptable version of House and his definite air of unapproachability. However, he was absolutely unassholeish in our eventual 30-second interaction there. So, you know, that’s irrefutable proof.

Anyway, The House That Dave Built by Stacey Gibson has lots of familiar detail but some new information, as well as Shore’s Housian humour and insight that hits on my hot button of the philosophical underpinnings of the show:

“In many ways I don’t consider this a medical show…. The things that interest me in the show are the philosophical things. When House goes on, it’s rarely about medicine, it’s about the nature of right and wrong.”

“There is a philosophical bent to the show, an opportunity to speak about life and how to live life,” continues Shore, who is married with three children. “I think good shows always deal with ethical dilemmas and ethical questions. Good dramas are usually about throwing your characters into situations where, do you turn right or do you turn left? And something bad will happen if you turn right and something bad will happen if you turn left – which one’s worse? This show has a lot of these moments, which is a great opportunity, but it also has chances for my personal perspective on the world.” He pauses. “God, that sounds terrible.”

Maclean’s magazine columnist and blogger Jaime Weinman, whose freakish knowledge of all things television frightens me (I mean that as a compliment), occasionally writes “Better know a writing staff” posts, something I wish I’d thought of first. I’m sure House is on his to-do list (um, right Jaime?), and when he does it, maybe he can confirm or add to the ex-lawyer count. I’ve got Shore, David Hoselton, and Peter Blake. Doctor writers? One: David Foster. (Plus three or so medical advisors but shush, I’m trying to make a point about the writing staff here.)

While I’m not quite ready to distance it from the medical show genre, I think it’s absolutely fitting that the lawyers outnumber the doctors. I’ve long said House acts like a defense attorney for his patients. Many of his ethical lapses result from his cockeyed attempt to represent their interests even against the greater good, whether they’re “guilty”/undeserving or “innocent”/deserving. Those arguments between House and the other characters or House and the established medical system lead to wonderful grey areas when the show delves into transplant ethics, patient autonomy and consent, rationality against emotion, personal responsibility, the nature of right versus wrong, and all that juicy stuff.

The medical stories may be the skeleton, and Hugh Laurie the soul, but the pseudo-legal framework is the brain driving House.

And to be clear, House is not always right in the philosophical arena, even if he’s almost always eventually right in the medical. You could watch the series and lap up his philosophy as if you’re being spoon-fed his view of the world and expected to ignore the secondary characters’ objections … until you hit an episode like “No Reason” that forces you to realize, as Shore said in his Banff talk, that House’s philosophy can and should be challenged:

“I created this character, and I love him, and you might think I’m saying, yeah, we should all be like that. No! We actually shouldn’t be like that. The finale was almost me talking to myself about this character I created. I love House, but the other guy had some good points.”

It’s hard not to be on House’s side when that’s the prevailing point of view, and when this infuriatingly brilliant and unfathomably likeable character presents that view so compellingly, but it’s a far more satisfying viewing experience for the audience to act as judge instead of substituting House’s judgement – or Shore’s – for our own. Like, transplant guidelines are there for a reason, and a patient’s right to choose and to know is sacrosanct, and sometimes it’s more important how you say something than what you say, and empathy and compassion are underrated (I’ll give him humanity being overrated, though).

In the UofT article, Shore says: “I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was 12 years old until the second week of law school.” Yet it seems like it was perfect training for creating the series that was to eventually put him on the cover of his alma mater’s alumni magazine.

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