Thursday, October 08, 2009
I've been watching House for a number of years now. I wasn't sold on the series initially because I find medical dramas pretty dull. There's always a big group of doctors and nurses whose personal lives are the real star of the show while each week various strangers with quirky medical issues pop in, live or die, and the show moves on.
House proved to be different because of, well, House. The character. The star of the show. Yeah, there are other characters around and he talks to them all the time, but he is the show and there's no doubt about it. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, whenever House isn't on screen some member of the supporting cast invariably asks "Where's House?"
As a bonus, House is played by Hugh Laurie, a British actor who I admire. He was actually known primarily as a comedian prior to this role, although he also wrote a novel which I tracked down a few years ago and really enjoyed (hey, Wikipedia says he just finished another one. Cool). House definitely has plenty of humor woven into it, but the show is a drama first and foremost. When people die, nobody laughs. Indeed, it often has future ramifications and can haunt characters for weeks.
Such is how Season 5 ended in the Spring. House was having hallucinations of a deceased employee from Season 4 (whom he failed to save) which was creeping him out. Then a second employee killed himself (the actor left the show abruptly) which caused House to stop sleeping. By the end of the season he had huge fantasies that were not revealed as such until the finale. It wasn't on the level of The Sixth Sense but having House realize that he was completely out of his mind and checking himself into an institution was a hell of a strong way to go out for the summer.
Summer is over and House opened Season 6 with a double-sized episode that felt more like a TV movie. Focusing entirely on his rehab and mental recovery in the hospital, it featured virtually none of the regular actors aside from House. It got a little weird when House was spending time in a room next to people who were clearly insane rather than simply troubled by extreme circumstances, but I watched it in Tokyo with Richard (a fellow fan) and we got a kick out of it. House needed to work on a lot of problems and admit that he needed serious help, and he did. Compelling, given the nature of the character.
Things got a little weird with the second episode. Now out of the hospital, he actually quit his job because he felt he needed to break out of his old habits else he relapse. As it turns out, he ends up solving the Patient of the Week's medical mystery anyway, so he decides (with help from his therapist, the lone holdover from the season premiere) to go back to work after all.
Which brings us to this week's episode, a rather disturbing affair where House tried to be nice to people for a change but he had to deal with a lot of tension at work and at home. I won't go into all of it, because ultimately his scenes were still the strongest in the show.
What bothers me is the PotW was a (fictional) African dictator played by powerhouse senior citizen James Earl Jones. The story tried to paint him as a controversial figure, someone who is accused of genocide and has to fend off regular assassination attempts. Yet whenever Jones got to speak his character was relatively charming and well-spoken, and his rebuttal to accusations of ethnic cleansing were not unreasonable.
In the end he died and on House nobody dies unless (A) someone screws up terribly or (B) the patient kind of deserved it. Sometimes there's a noble sacrifice involved but usually a dead patient is one the audience won't lose any sleep over. Obviously the writers thought they had successfully painted Jones as a madman or a future Hitler, but in my opinion he came off as a politician and not one who needed to be stopped at all costs.
What exactly those "costs" are remains to be seen, because it turns out that a member of House's staff actually murdered the patient by falsifying some lab data and convincing the other doctors to treat the patient for a disease he didn't have. When confronted, the culprit made a half-assed defense on the basis of "he was going to execute the [fake ethnic group] so I killed him." No one accepted that argument but that didn't stop the whistleblower from burning the only piece of evidence to prove that the doctor intentionally misled the hospital staff and subsequently set the patient up to die. The episode ended ambiguously, not making it clear what fallout remains to be settled.
I'm not giving up on this show because I still dig House (the man) and the basic formula of treating the increasing dangerous condition that each PotW brings to the table. However, this latest development shows that everyone else on the show is now in serious trouble. Either this week's episode leads to a huge shake-up of the cast (which it still could) or somehow we as viewers have to pretend that none of this happened. Ultimately House is innocent of any wrongdoing because he never actually met the patient (which, while common, felt like a missed opportunity because Jones and Laurie could have had a great goddamn scene together) but nearly all of his staff and perhaps his boss could go down for this.
No matter what happens, my faith in the show is a little shaken. House has often dabbled in science fiction as far as the medicine is concerned but the motivations of House and the other doctors was always grounded in some kind of reality. To have this episode swing so wildly into crazytown disturbed me, and the idea that we might still end up with the usual bunch and formula-as-usual is completely unacceptable.
House is in its sixth season, so some wear is to be expected after 113 episodes. If it collapses this season, I'll still respect it for lasting as long as it did. I actually predicted it had jumped the shark way back in episode sixty-four when House solved a crisis on an international flight that he happened to be on with his boss (who also got sick). I laughingly called it "House on a Plane" and anticipated the show would gradually descend into irrelevancy. Major cast changes in Season 4 proved me wrong, as the show found a new way to handle itself.
This time, I don't know what can save it from the hole it has dug. That shark is still out there and the stink of blood is heavy...James Earl Jones is not petite.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I was riding the train this morning and taking in the human scenery around me when I made this observation via Twitter:
sitting on a train across from a man (NOT a teen) reading a pro wrestling magazine. Even when I was a fan I knew those mags were crap.In hindsight this sounds harsh but it wasn't meant as a strict judgment of the man, just his choice of reading material. And yet it took less than a second for his magazine of choice to color my whole opinion of him. I started looking at his hair and decided it was weird. I thought the way he ate his breakfast was comically ape-like. My entire opinion of a stranger was dependent on his method of passing time during his morning commute. All this from a man who used to be one of those people who not only watched pro wrestling every week on television but actually spent a good deal of money on attending live events.
After looking across the aisle for a while, I glanced at the man next to me. He was wearing a suit and coat with a briefcase on his lap, and he was reading a Golgo 13 manga. This made more sense to me because Golgo 13 is awesome, but why? Just because I preferred one hobby over the other, I found one guy normal while the other was some kind of primate? That didn't sit right with me.
I know we all have our inner passions, many of which are far from mainstream. Earlier this same morning, I read the following message from Robert Ashley on Twitter:
"... is overrated" is one of the emptiest phrases in the English language. People love everything too much. That's fandom.As much as I agree with his first point (the Internet is awash with cynical morons who declare "[popular thing] is overrated" ad nauseum) his second point is what echoed inside my head on the train. Falling in love with something means getting excited about it beyond the "appropriate" attention level as decided by the masses. Even those niche hobbies that are considered mainstream, like baseball, have their own subculture of intense statistical analysts and historical archivists whose enthusiasm would not have much in common with the casual fan.
Looking back on my own life, I've had my share of (unhealthy?) hobbies and interests over the years. Overlooking my fondness for certain toy lines as a boy, when I was a teenager I spent my free time playing a lot of video games and watching a lot of Star Trek. While I always had at least one friend who shared my enthusiasm at the time, I always had at least two friends who weren't interested at all. There were video game friends and Star Trek friends, but not both. I would bounce between hobbies and fluctuate my passion depending on the company I kept.
Last night I was watching the latest episode of House which featured an unusual "patient of the week" who had lost all impulse control and said whatever came to his mind. This led to a lot of awkward conversations where he insulted his clients, pointed out the doctors' physical attributes (good and bad), and clashed with his wife about her charity work. But hidden amongst the sitcom-level gimmickry was one interesting idea: what is this man's real personality? If this is what he thinks about all day but he chose not to say it before, does that mean he's always been a raging asshole? Or is the way he decided to behave his actual self?
We all have our own little quirks and habits, and we all shift our behavior depending on who we spend time with. Your average man is not going to comment aloud on a new attractive coworker in the office, no matter how striking she may be, but he will certainly bring it up around his friends afterwards. I know my wife talks a certain way around me, a different way around her parents, and yet another way when she talks to her friends. Which one is the "real" Mako? Likewise, I behave in a certain fashion while at home and in a very different fashion when I attend the Tokyo Game Show. Was her panic concerning my gaming around New Year's really a frightened reaction to seeing too much of my geekiness?
I can't help but wonder if the world would be a better place if we had fewer social pressures to keep our interests bottled up. "Honesty is the best policy" isn't always necessarily true, as evidenced by the guy on House, but isn't more honesty better than less? What if Trekkies could wear Starfleet uniforms in public as casually as sports fans wear team jerseys? What if Danny Choo was just one of a million Star Wars fans who dressed up in stormtrooper armor on the weekends?
I honestly believe that half of the people going to conventions are just looking to be "themselves" for a few hours around people who won't judge them so harshly. I've been to more than one Star Trek convention in my life and I assure you, there's not much to do there. Maybe you get to hear one of the actors speak, maybe you even get an autograph, but the reason I kept going back was the opportunity it presented to just immerse myself in all things nerdy. The exact same thing is true now with my love of Den Den Town. I almost never buy anything but I love being surrounded by old games and marveling at the passion surrounding that old technology.
So go ahead - take this chance to leave a confession in the comments section. What hobbies or interests do you feel uncomfortable sharing with everyone? It's the Internet, let yourself go!
PS: What was I doing on the train this morning? Listening to my iPod, specifically a playlist made up entirely of Neo Geo music. Hell yeah.
PPS: Tried writing this without Write or Die. Managed 988 words in 35 minutes. Not too shabby but I'm not ready to move on yet.
つづく...(Click here to read more)