Life Is a "House" Episode
Ever watch the hot new TV series House M.D.? What a fabulous show; my wife and I love it. From a writing standpoint, House is fascinating, perhaps even unique. The main plot is exactly the same, week in and week out.
- A random person develops serious, inexplicable symptoms.
- The person becomes a patient of Gregory House, the brilliant but wittily abrasive diagnostician.
- House and his team run the patient through all sorts of tests, often making the condition worse.
- Patient comes closer and closer to death.
- With five minutes left in the show, while House is in the midst of some random conversation, he suddenly sees the solution. Viola! Patient is cured — usually. Even if not, the diagnosis is nailed down.
Now what makes House so interesting is this. It’s the subplots and the subtext that make the show. As House and his team discover and interpret medical clues, the interplay among the characters explores issues and problems of life that have nothing to do with the case at hand. Insecurities, character flaws, relationship strains, damaged psyches, gross misunderstandings are all revealed. Onions are unpeeled. The essence of what the characters are becomes visible,often painfully so, and seldom are their problems neatly resolved. The medical case is merely an excuse for characters to explore who and what they are. I can’t recall another TV show like it.
Why House Is Like Life
Conversation leads to conversion. Many of the characters on House, especially House himself, are isolated, living lives of quiet desperation. Ironically, it is House who is such a magnificent catalyst, the man who is ready, willing, and able to make the unwelcome observations and ask the tough questions. He forces people to think, to talk it out, to figure it out. When we start thinking, we start talking. When we start talking, we start changing. Change can’t occur in isolation. Even House has made some progress during the run of the series.
The things we think are important, aren’t. For instance we may think of our careers as the main plot of our lives, or accumulating wealth, or even seeing our children become doctors or lawyers. But are those things truly where life is lived? I don’t think so, and neither does House. It’s the relationships we build along the way and the things we discover about ourselves that matter more as time goes on. By the end of the episode …
It’s not whether we live or die, it’s the journey. On House, the patient’s physical survival becomes becomes a secondary issue. The more important issue is whether the patient (or some other character), will be healed psychologically and spiritually — whether the character will live a better life, embrace life, confront his fears or his failings, repair a broken relationship, come to grips with a seemingly impossible situation. But even then, it’s not the resolution of a life problem that matters. Some problems take a lifetime to solve. Others may not be solvable at all. But we keep trying, we keep moving forward. Every bit of discovery about ourselves and those we care for adds richness and completeness to our lives. And like a House episode, even the tiniest bit of progress can be immensely satisfying!
What are the subplots in your life? Are you giving them the attention they deserve?
Thanks to Robert Hruzek for giving me a chance to explore this topic as part of his Group Project for August, Life Is a __________. A very cool topic it is! If you’ve got time, I sure hope you’ll make a contribution.
(Hugh Laurie, by Eleventh Earl of Mar on Flickr)