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Is There a Doctor in the House?

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Television Medicine: Caught the season premiere of Fox’s new medical drama(?) “House.” The protagonist, Dr. House, is a brilliant diagnostician who hates people. The premise is that each week he and his team will solve a baffling medical mystery. It’s a hybrid of Becker and the New York Times Sunday Magazine “Diagnosis” column by Lisa Sanders. The show has its entertaining moments, mostly in the dialogue:

Junior Doctor: Isn’t that why we became doctors, to treat patients?

Dr. House: No, we became doctors to treat illness. Treating patients is what makes most doctors miserable.

Unfortunately, that’s the highest point of the show, which is extremely weak when it comes to medicine, and to human nature. A few minutes with Dr. House and you have to wonder why anyone would keep on staff, even if he is brilliant. Not only does he refuse to see patients, he stomps around insulting everyone and popping narcotics in plain site (“Because they’re yummy,” he tells a patient who’s been unfortunate enough to be forced upon him by the head of the hospital.) Dr. House walks with a limp, supposedly caused by an illness that destroyed his thigh muscles. That’s the only clue we have as to why he’s a nasty piece of humanity. And truth to tell, you don’t have to give a doctor a disability and a drug habit to explain his misanthropy – a beeper and a couple of nights on call would serve just as well.

But Dr. House’s personality, as bad as it is, isn’t the worst of the show. The entire medical establishment he inhabits will leave viewers familiar with the realism of shows like ER largely disappointed. Dr. House is head of “department of diagnostic medicine,” whatever that is. Is he an internist who concentrates on diagnosis at the expense of treatment? Evidently not. He sees children as well as adults, and he prescribes treatment, too. And the entire department seems to be composed of Dr. House and his residents or fellows or whatever. (Their relationship to the great man is fuzzy, other than that their his subordinates.)

Dr. House and his team spend hours thinking over the one problem case they have. They defer diagnostic testing for other less conventional means of diagnosis such as breaking and entering. This week’s case turned out to be neurocysticercosis, or tapeworm in the brain. This is certainly an uncommon ailment, and one that would require diagnostic acumen and doggedness, but the show goes over the top for drama. The case patient was allergic to the contrast that was needed for an MRI to make the diagnosis. So, instead of doing a lumbar puncture or performing lab tests that most would use in the situation to make a diagnosis, the team breaks into her house to search for clues. They find some deli ham in the refrigerator and – “bingo!” diagnosis made.

Hugh Laurie does a surprisingly good job playing angry white male. It’s safe to say he’s put Bertie Wooster behind him for a long time. He could even have a future as movie villain. But his performance, alas, is the only good thing about the show.

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  • This review was chosen for Advance.net. You will be able to find it on newspaper sites including Cleveland.com.