What would Dr. Gregory House, television’s diagnostician extraordinaire, do at being snubbed in his last chance for an Emmy for his idiopathic series,"House”?
Well, that’s the beauty part. He wouldn’t give a bedpan.
Now, how Hugh Laurie, the actor who plays House so smashingly, may feel about wrapping up his eight-year series as a six-time Emmy bridesmaid, without even a nomination this time, I do not know. He joins the august shutout ranks of Angela Lansbury (18 nominations) and Steve Carell’s artlessly brilliant Michael Scott in"The Office.”
But I allow myself to feel disappointed on Laurie’s behalf; House was a helluva character.
One always feels smug for having known the work of an actor or writer before he or she became famous, as I did with Laurie’s work back to “Blackadder” and “Fry and Laurie.” And because I have a passing social acquaintance with his incandescently polymath comedy partner Stephen Fry, I felt I had a rooting interest in Laurie’s Emmy sweepstakes.
“House” was born of Sherlock Holmes, for whose tales I have such a mania that once, for a story, I tried to get myself hypnotized so I could re-read them as if I had never read them before. (It didn’t work. Maybe Dr. House could prescribe something for that.)
For his masterly incarnation of aggressive, manic unlikability, Laurie was, in this final season, getting paid a reported princely $700,000 per episode (a figure that coincides precisely with the $700,000 that UnitedHealthcare just donated in April to a California telemedicine project for rural clinics and hospitals).
The novelist Chuck Palahniuk told me recently that he likes to create characters who believe in something honorable or noble, and then he has them do despicable things in the service of that cause.
That sums up Gregory House perfectly, which is how he has kept the edge on this character who could let Marcus Welby strangle on his own stethoscope if he had a good reason for it. His cause wasn’t the patient; it was solving the puzzle of what was killing the patient. Some of the abstruse ailments he diagnosed were probably a footnote on Page 1063 of a textbook in a real med-school class taught at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning, but no matter. Hypochondriacs of the world swooned.
But the real way you knew “House” was nowhere near a documentary?
I don’t recall anyone on the show ever mentioning … health insurance.
Maybe I missed an episode or two with a guest star playing a snarky health insurance naysayer, the kind of one-episode casting of an established actor who gets to gnaw on the hospital scenery before dying dramatically in some freakish comeuppance accident that paradoxically falls under a noncovered “act of God” in a life insurance policy.
In contrast to the reality of debt collection agencies embedding their collectors in hospital emergency rooms to get patients to pay, “House” was supremely indifferent to the grinding realities of deductibles, co-pays and out-of-network restrictions.
Has anyone ever counted up the multiple MRIs and exotic treatments lavished on House’s patients? Or the maximum number of MDs who could cluster at one patient’s bedside while the billing clock ticked away?
Contests that offer free groceries or free gasoline for life don’t do it for me. If someone offers free medical care for life, sign me up.
My other, secret reason for cheering for Laurie is my fantasy about his acceptance speech, his swan song as the TV doc. He would loft that golden Emmy above his head in a triumphant grip and declare, in his own Oxbridge accent, “This one is for ‘Obamacare!’ ”