Perhaps the most striking feature of the show is how extremely human the titular character of Dr. House is written. He is a peerless medical genius and a consummate master of sarcasm, that much is exaggeration. But his flaws are deep and very realistic. Without spoiling any part of the plot, it will suffice to say that House is a hypocrite - he is no less susceptible to the weaknesses he points out in others, and he does not live by his own advice or with the knowledge granted him by his expertise; he simply covers up for it rather well by keeping everyone else on the defensive. The occasional crack appears in his facade, and these insights into the character are revealing without being melodramatic. The fact that he is an unapologetic atheist (as are at least two other characters on the show) is icing on the cake for godless heathens like myself.
I first started paying attention to the series about a year or so ago, when a roommate of mine started watching the third season on the internet. I got the first two seasons for Christmas, and the pilot was more or less what I expected: a slightly more ham-handed (but otherwise true to form) version of the later show. Still well done, but pilots are subject to expositional needs that later episodes simply are not.
Watching the special features made me see the show in a new light, though. Aside from Omar Epps, I had never heard of any of the actors before (nor had I heard of any of the production crew, but I usually don't pay enough attention to that stuff), and I had been watching under the impression that this was some otherworldly cast, immune to the foibles and vagaries plaguing the rest of humanity. I was swiftly disabused of this notion during the special features. Omar Epps and Robert Sean Leonard are the only main characters who do not appear in the special features I watched (I opted out of the set tour), so I can't really judge them based on this, but everyone else came across as a rather stereotypical actor gushing in front of the camera. The sole exception was Lisa Edelstein, who remained composed for all ten seconds she was shown. The producers seemed kind of full of themselves, too.
Despite all this, House, MD is still an amazing show, and this is the part that made me want to write this post. Sela Ward described Hugh Laurie as being "outside the box," and I immediately exclaimed to nobody in particular, "No! He just fits perfectly into an extremely well-designed box!" I think this is what's really so great about the series: it is an uncommonly good example of the common TV show. Every episode follows the same formula: open with a slice-of-life vignette of whoever will become the patient (with a possible red herring), proceed to House getting his arm twisted to take the case, follow with initial diagnosis and small complications, proceed to crucial complications, repeat last step as needed, and achieve resolution. Sprinkle character development
to taste I mean, "for pacing." Variety and good writing keep it somewhat fresh, but that's the formula, and it manages to be well-executed just about every damn time. OK, it also helps that they throw medical jargon and scientific principles around like confetti at a New Year's bash - as my best friend's microbiology professor pointed out, "Pay attention while watching House, and you'll get a reasonable entry-level medical education."
So that's what I find so interesting about House, MD: it's a common show, done uncommonly well. In a time when we have a word, "Foxed," for good shows that get shit-canned, I think it's a pretty impressive that such an excellent show has enjoyed such sweeping success. Or maybe I'm just coming down with acute rapid onset fan-itis. Look, try watching three episodes and see if you aren't hooked.