You want Dr. Gregory House around when you stop breathing or can't stop bleeding. But he's a lousy dinner guest. The title character in Fox's hit drama is a curmudgeonly ball of bile. House hates his patients, mocks his co-workers and can't stand himself much of the time. Third-world dictators have better bedside manners.
"For years television made the mistake of saying: The character has to be likeable," House creator David Shore told the Canadian magazine Maclean's a year and a half after the series premiered in 2004. "Well, no, the character has to be interesting. I fully expected to get a note from Fox saying: 'Make him likeable. Give him a puppy. Write him a dying grandmother.' But I never got that note."
House, a medical whodunit once described as "CSI with germs," has developed a loyal following over the years, thanks largely to said sour doctor. According to Shore, House is modeled after Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliant-but-aloof detective. And in every episode, House and his team of medical sleuths tackle mysteries, often saving lives. But their behavior would have appalled Holmes' Victorian-era audience.
"Patients die every day," House says. "Not all of them are interesting." He would have you believe—perhaps with some truth—that he cares more about the puzzle than the patient. That he's like a big-game hunter on the trail of the catch, and all he cares about is the trophy.
We've seen hints that House may actually have a soul lurking behind his tactless rebuffs and four-day-old scruff. But for our purposes, we must take House and his cohorts at face value—and it's not a pretty picture. They objectify patients and discuss their own sex lives in graphic terms. They bungle and banter their way through issues of homosexuality (one doctor, known as Thirteen, is bisexual), masturbation and pornography. For much of the fourth season, House referred to one woman as "the cutthroat b‑‑ch." Oh, and he's more than a little fond of self-medicating. He kicked his Vicodin dependence for a time, but now is taking a cocktail of drugs—including rat medicine—to handle his chronic pain.
House also has a disturbing view of religious faith. "Faith. That's another word for ignorance, isn't it?" he says. He derides patients' spirituality, calling them "stupid" and "idiots" behind their backs. He tells a Hasidic Jew, "You will let me treat [your wife], because in this temple, I am Dr. Yahweh."
Episodes have challenged House's cynical worldview. And while the producers would rather ask questions than provide answers, they do wrestle with moral issues from diverse points of view. When, for instance, House encounters a pregnant woman whose unborn baby was, somehow, killing her, he calls the baby a "tumor" and advises her to abort. She refuses. House then operates on the child in utero to save both lives and, during the operation, the baby grabs House's fingertip with his tiny hand. House is uncharacteristically at a loss for words. Trying in vain to shrug it off, he winds up sitting alone, deep in thought, feeling the tip of his finger.
If only that was the norm. More representative is a scene (from the tail end of Season 7) in which supervisor and sometime squeeze Dr. Cuddy discovers that House has been encouraging her toddler to watch a foul, sexualized late-night cartoon. The little girl loves the show and parrots its language by calling everyone a "bloody scalawag."
"What kind of an idiot lets a 3-year-old watch that?" she gasps.
The one-word answer: House. For him, exposing folks to what they ought not to see is just part of the gig.
House, worried surgeons might cut off his diseased leg, operates on it himself in his bathtub. He can't complete the graphically depicted procedure, however, and has to call for help. Thirteen, meanwhile, cares for her former prison cell mate, who has escaped from jail, promising to not take her to a hospital. A colleague insists she go, however, and when Thirteen refuses, the two get into a physical fight—with Thirteen eventually hitting the floor.
Dr. Taub—who filed for divorce from his wife and is now fretting over fathering a child (still unborn) with another woman—goes to a strip club and spots a suspicious-looking mole on one of the dancers. (She's wearing a bikini-type outfit.) When he tries to inspect it, he gets thrown out of the club and, later, is again warded off—this time by the gun-wielding stripper.
Sexual banter is exchanged. In a hallucination, a 19-year-old criminal gets shot in the head. (We see the wound.) Characters say "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," the British profanity "bloody" and misuse God's name. Doctors reference why Thirteen went to jail—for euthanizing her brother. House pops painkillers.
House gives a sexually charged "career day" talk to fifth graders, which culminates in a fistfight with another presenter. He's sent to the principal's office and meets two children, who got in trouble for nearly kissing.
The two kids are set up to look as if they're in a far more troublesome relationship than they are, with bruises and conversation serving to steer viewers toward the conclusion that abuse and sex are involved. They're actually far more innocent than that—or at least they were before they met House. He wonders aloud "who put sand" in a school administrator's private parts, tells children about vibrator use and embellishes his speech with tall tales (including one about him shooting a college student in cold blood). Almost as troubling is what he doesn't fabricate: stealing and hacking Cuddy's computer while searching for ways to "make up" for being a thoughtless jerk.
Kids are referred to as "sluts" and "morons." A patient coughs up part of his lung. (Blood splatters out of his mouth and a clump of tissue lands in his hand.) House makes a racially charged joke and talks about nuns doing porn. He and others say "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑," "b‑‑chy" and misuse God's name.