After Life

We’ve been watching a lot of TV lately.  Who hasn’t?  When the workday ends, you’ve been reading from a computer screen for nine hours straight, and you’ve just taken your third walk of the day around your neighborhood, what the heck else are you going to do?

after-lifeI’m not sure you could call this a positive, but because of abundant TV sampling we’ve watched some shows that we probably wouldn’t have watched otherwise.  And, because of the high-volume exposure to the boob tube, I’ve also identified a core problem with me, as a TV viewer.  The problem is that, instead of simply enjoying a show, I always try to figure out what the creator of the show wants me to think about the main characters.  When I watched House, for example, I always wondered whether the creator of the show wanted me to grow to like the brilliant main character, or sympathize with him because of his bad leg, or think he was a colossal, egotistical jerk who would never have a friend like Wilson in real life.  Dr. House’s complex, multi-dimensional character (brilliantly played by Hugh Laurie) was one of the things that made that show a good watch in my book.

For most shows, figuring out how you’re supposed to react to a character isn’t a problem, because most shows are written so that it’s quickly apparent that a particular character is supposed to funny, or repellent, or heroic, or whatever.  It’s pretty rare for a show to leave that central issue ambiguous, where the creators are comfortable with different viewers, perhaps, reacting to a particular character in different ways.

After Life is one of those rare shows.  Written and created by, and starring, Ricky Gervais, it features a main character, Tony, who is one of those ambiguous characters.  He’s obsessed with watching highly personal videos of his life with his wife, now dead of cancer, and has been toying with the idea of killing himself because her death makes him so sad.  That’s pretty sympathetic, but a lot of the videos that he watches reveal him to be a kind of annoying prankster and a bit of a jerk.  (His wife, on the other hand, seems like a real saint to laugh, for example, when he sets off an air horn while she’s sleeping.)  He’s a colossal jerk with some people, for no readily apparent reason, and a nice, supportive guy to others.  He’s ridiculously mean to people who wouldn’t challenge him, but won’t say boo to the world’s worst therapist who’s supposed to be helping him deal with his grief.

So, what are we supposed to think of this guy?  Dismiss him as a weepy sad sack who just can’t move on?  Feel sorry for him because he’s so totally distraught?  Think he’s funny because of his witty snark?  View him as a jackass who’s just pushing away most of the people who are trying to help him?  Decide he can’t be all bad because he’s got a great dog that he obviously cares about, and anybody who’s got a relationship like that with a dog must have some redeeming qualities?  The perspective on Tony keeps shifting.

It’s worth watching.

Last House

Tonight Fox will air the last episode of House.  It will be a two-hour finale, and then the show will be relegated to The Happy Land of Perpetual TV Reruns.

Kish and I have watched House, faithfully, from the beginning of the first season until tonight’s end.  I don’t know how many TV shows I can say that about.  Cheers was one; I’m not sure there have been any others.  Not many long-running shows can hold my interest from beginning to end.  Often they become rote and predictable, or they take a turn for the worse, or I just lose interest.

One reason House is the rare exception is that the show has maintained a high quality level throughout its run while at the same time staying true to its core premise and themes.  Dr. Gregory House, that brilliant diagnostician who has a predictable “Eureka!” moment just about every episode, has remained a broken, deeply disturbed, drug-popping jerk who can’t maintain a normal human relationship.  The show’s creators haven’t married him off, or had him adopt a child, or required him to take some other out-of-character step to try to boost ratings or keep the show “fresh.”  I respect that, and I also respect that star Hugh Laurie and the creative brain trust of House have decided to call it quits while the show is still on top.  There is nothing more painful than a TV show — or a professional athlete — that stays on until it is well past its prime.

I’ll miss House, but I’ll look forward to seeing the awesomely talented Hugh Laurie in other roles that allow him to stretch his acting abilities.  Right now, I’m just hoping that the last show of this terrific series doesn’t fall prey to the disastrous finale syndrome that has caused other legendary shows to end with an embarrassing whimper rather than a well-deserved bang.

House’s End

Hugh Laurie and David Shore, the main creative forces behind the TV drama House, have announced that the series will end this year — after eight years of putting the acerbic, misanthropic Dr. Gregory House into every imaginable situation and seeing him solve every imaginable diagnostic problem.

House has been one of my favorite shows since it began.  It’s still good, and it’s still one of the few shows that we automatically record on our DVR.  I’ll be sorry when it ends, but I also understand and appreciate the decision to bring the series to closure.  I hate watching favorite shows go inexorably downhill, sometimes to the point of embarrassment.  If the actors and writers and producers conclude that the creative string has been played out, as apparently is the case with House, I’m inclined to trust their judgment.

With the announcement of the series’ end, the question now becomes — how will it end?  There really haven’t been many great final episodes of TV shows, and often the final episode is awful.  I hope that the House crew resist the temptation to tie up all the loose ends, bring back House’s ex-wife Stacy, Cameron, and Cuddy for final bows, and have House cure Wilson of cancer.

Whatever else may happen, let House be House — in all his brilliant, miserable, appalling glory — to the inevitably bitter end.

Fun House

I’ve very much enjoyed watching House this season.  Many of the overarching issues that have dominated the show since its inception — House’s addiction, Cameron’s naggy prissiness, Foreman’s insufferableness, and so forth — have been resolved, as least for now.  The decks have been cleared for some different approaches, and the show has taken advantage of that opportunity.

Hugh Laurie and Amber Tamblyn

The writers are venturing into new territory for all of the characters, and they are coming up with interesting story arcs.  How would House behave in a serious relationship?  What kind of mother would Cuddy have?  Wouldn’t Taub’s and Chase’s serial philandering eventually have consequences?  How would House deal with Cuddy’s child?  And although most of the characters are familiar, two significant new characters have been introduced to help keep things fresh.  Amber Tamblyn plays a brainiac medical student with Cameron-light preachiness, and Candice Bergen has burst onto the scene as Cuddy’s outspoken Mom.  Watching Hugh Laurie and the rest of the talented cast deal with all of these new plot threads and characters has been a joy.

I think this is the funniest season of House, ever.  The writers have mined the new situations for real comedic gold, while leaving House true to his ultra-logical, sarcastic aloofness.  Only House would reason that the best way to deal with the unpleasant dinner-time hectoring of Cuddy’s Mom would be to drug her — and Wilson, to boot.  Only House would try to help Cuddy’s little girl get into the best pre-school by applying dog training techniques to teach her how to ace the evaluative games.

Most TV shows that have been around for multiple seasons get stale and predictable.  So far this season, at least, House has avoided that fate.

Happy About House

I have been pleased with the new season of House, which I think is shaping up to be one of the best ever.  The entertaining Dr. House already has survived an extended stay in a mental institution, kicked his Vicodin habit (for now, at least), lost his medical license, shown his cooking ability, moved in with Wilson, watched his team kill off a ruthless African dictator, and generally shed a lot of the baggage that, I think, weighed down the show last year.  How often can you watch House pop pills, act like an ass, treat people like dirt, and then see that all is forgiven because he solves the unsolvable medical mystery after an epiphany with about five minutes left to go in the show?  Predictability breeds viewer fatigue.

Last night’s episode was a good example of how old story lines apparently are ending and the characters are moving on to promising new vistas.  For years, House has treated Wilson like crap, with rare exceptions.  Last night, after House kept Wilson from committing a career-killing move and then made Wilson feel better with some straight talk, you got a sense of why Wilson honestly considers House to be his best friend.  For years, House and Cuddy have danced a smoldering, unconsummated sexual samba.  Last night, when House decided to finally act on his interest in Cuddy, he learned that he had waited too long and Cuddy was going out with House’s brilliant and exceptionally odd former private investigator.  Even better, House seemed to accept the news with some maturity, rather than pulling a crude prank or plotting some painful method of revenge.  For a few episodes now, Foreman has actually seemed like a likeable human being rather than an arrogant jerk.  Chase and Cameron have gotten some camera time, and now they will have to deal with Chase’s decision to tell Cameron about his cold-blooded murder of the perpetrator of African genocide.  From the previews, it looks like Taub will be returning and 13 too; I pray only that the leaden, completely unconvincing romance between Foreman and 13 isn’t resurrected and thrust in our faces yet again.

I don’t know where it will all lead — which is the main reason I am finding this season so enjoyable so far.