House and The Irony of Preachiness

These are the dog-days when I correct papers and then correct more paper and then correct more papers. I'm home much of the time and in the interests of being fair (to the students and to myself), I take breaks and watch shows.

Lately, I watched the first season of House. I noticed a few things that interested me. One of the main things I noticed was how thoroughly fleshed out the show was right from day one. I've formed the conclusion that when a producer/director has a vision--a particular way he/she desires a show to unwind--it has a tremendous impact on the quality of the show.

If, on the other hand, the show is like the technology/consulting firm I worked at which couldn't make up its mind WHY it had merged, then all you've got is a bunch of characters, a cool set, and a few ideas.

The next thing I noticed was that Wilson lies A LOT. I didn't realize this the first season because, gosh darn it, Wilson is so nice. But in his gosh-shucks way, he lies all the time. And yet House puts up with him, and I think House puts up with him because Wilson lying makes life interesting and because Wilson isn't wrong or stupid with his lies. House tends to associate himself with people who will expose him, and Wilson does that. He just does it by lying.

The third thing I noticed was that Chase is actually very, very funny. There's a scene where House decides to actually visit a patient. Foreman and Cameron are all "Wow, he's going to see a patient!" But Chase says, "I don't know who I am anymore" in this dead-pan way. It is very funny. He is also more amused by House than the others. I think this was smart writing. On the one hand, it made Chase less sycophantic than House sometimes paints him. On the first hand, it makes Chase's betrayal of House that much more awful. And yet comprehensible. And House takes it (and gives Chase grief for the rest of his life).

Moving on, I must mention Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes which I have also watched recently. It's Christmas time (not Holiday time--this is my blog; it's Christmas time), and every Christmas, I watch, "The Blue Carbuncle" from the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett.

And I appreciated all over again how wonderful that series is. The thing that makes it so incredibly wonderful is that the directors allow the culture to exist without making big, "DID YOU NOTICE HOW CHAUVINIST THEY ARE? DID YOU NOTICE HOW IMPERIALIST THEY ARE?" comments.

In the episode following "The Blue Carbuncle," "The Copper Beeches" a young governess is offered a position by an extremely odd man. She is offered the position through an agency, and the woman who runs the agency pressures her into accepting what is clearly a bizarre/predatorial situation. The woman really should protect the young governess, but she doesn't. You feel the load of being an independent female employee in the early 20th century. But yet--and this is important--nobody comments on it. The director doesn't make a huge point of it. Sherlock Holmes and Watson never mentioned it. They take the assumptions of the culture for granted.

And yet the scene's treatment is too marked to be accidental. You feel that the director cared enough to be honest without being made preachy or nervous by Conan Doyle's material.

I feel the same way about the 1980s Miss Marple movies versus the recent Miss Marple movies, which I loathe. The 1980s versions present Christie's world intact, honestly. The recent versions put their own agenda and badly written scripts before Agatha Christie's vision.

In the novel turned movie A Murder Is Announced, for example, two older women live together. They are friends. Agatha Christie never comments on the relationship. It wasn't unusual in that day and age. It didn't come hung about with possible labels and possible inferences.

In fact, it didn't necessarily mean anything sexual at all. And it didn't necessarily not. It was an age when people were allowed a great deal more freedom with their sexual orientation than they are now. Really! (The very lack of speculation meant that Cary Grant, for instance, didn't have to declare himself. Thank goodness because I don't think Cary Grant would have known how to declare himself. He would have gone to therapy instead, and thereby, destroyed the very sexual ambiguity that made him such a fantastic actor in the first place.)

But in the recent Murder Is Announced, the two women aren't "friends" or roommates. They are lovers, and Miss Marple gets to make some very sanctimonious, very modern speeches about being true to oneself.

Now, get this: in the book and in the movies, one of the women is killed. In the 1980s version, the devastation and anger of the survivor is superb. It strikes you right to your heart's core. It's REAL.

But in the recent version, ho hum, another bad day for lesbians everywhere.

Ironic, huh?

To bring this back to House, I think Shore is trying to do the "no judgment, just showing people and life" thing. Not completely--hey, it is an American show--but to an extent. Which is rather unusual. More power to him!

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