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Dr. House, thank God we hardly knew ye

Television’s most polarizing character says goodbye after eight seasons

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He beat us up every week — and we kept coming back.

House ended as it began: Frustratingly so.

(BEGINNING OF SPOILER ALERT!)

The last few episodes leading up to Monday night’s finale documented title character Gregory House’s world slowly unraveling: The departure of Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer); the departure of House’s green-card bride, Dominika Petrova (Karolina Wydra); the eventual departure from this mortal coil of his best buddy, Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard); and his imminent return to jail for violating his parole. In other words, just another day at the office for undoubtedly the darkest show on network television. (What other show would solve the problem of a departing actor by having his character suddenly, and inexplicably, kill himself?)

So, suicide? As House might say, that’s boring. No, House may be self-destructive and misanthropic, but he’s also pragmatic. So, Monday’s House finale was an hour-long plot by our “hero” to fake his death in a fire (swapping dental records with a heroin addict) so he could be with Wilson the final five months of his life. And yeah, in eight seasons, that’s as close as House ever came to an “Awwwwww!” moment.

(END SPOILER ALERT!)

For eight seasons, House enthralled us with its drug-addled protagonist who appeared, physically and emotionally, to be rotting from the inside. Ever the games player, House rarely showed his hand, and even when he did, odds are it was part of a larger game, one that he invariably “won,” although every victory seemed more hollow than the one before.

Truthfully, it became more and more of a challenge for me to stick with House as the years went by. For starters, it certainly offered little in the way of variety when it came to plots: 1. Patient is admitted with mystery illness. 2. Doctors argue about the cause. 3. Treatment is agreed upon, usually begrudgingly. 4. Patient gets worse, in some cases, WAY worse. 5. Family trauma/secret of some kind is revealed. 6. House brilliantly solves the case while having an epiphany during a completely unrelated conversation.

So why did I never miss an episode? Pretty simple, really. House is a master class of dramatic television. Writing, production and acting are all world-class, and a lot can be forgiven under those circumstances.

And House certainly has much to forgive. Gregory House is, for better or worse, one of the most compelling, unforgettable characters we’re ever likely to see, although I find it hard to believe that anyone out there is actually rooting for this guy. House (played by the inexplicably Emmy-less Hugh Laurie) has manipulated, lied, stolen, vandalized, screwed, beaten and generally run roughshod through every episode, all unapologetically. He’s a walking Super Id, hyper-aware of his surroundings and situations, and continually criticizes either the idiocy, intelligence or luck of his medical team as they try to solve each week’s medical mystery. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that television will ever produce a less sympathetic character than Gregory House.

Thing is, for all his jerkishness, he’s usually right about absolutely everything. Did I forget to mention the man’s a genius? So, just as the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital must put up with his antics (because, you know, he solves cases and saves lives), viewers of House must put up with its title character because, you know, he forces us to take a look at our own situation and ask some hard questions. Generous giver? House will determine it to be a result of a medical condition. Whistle blower? House will figure out it was because one of your relatives covered up the truth. You say you never lie? As House would quickly point out, that’s a lie. Religious? House will have you questioning your faith within minutes. To be sure, this was some of the smartest, most challenging stuff ever on television, razor sharp and so fast-paced at times that a click of the rewind button was almost mandatory.

I don't mourn the loss of House, but I mourn for television, which was so much more meaningful with it around.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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