How The Good Doctor responds to and moves on from House

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It’s not difficult to read The Good Doctor as something of a spiritual sequel to House; indeed, the programme almost asks you to. Certainly, the two dramas share particular thematic concerns. Both are about brilliant doctors positioned as liminal figures, using medical drama as a lens to advance a character study. Their eponymous stars are, if not isolated, placed at the periphery of society: in House, because of House’s misanthropy, borne of his chronic pain and depression; in The Good Doctor, it’s because Shaun Murphy is neuro-divergent.

Where House had a vein of nihilism running through it, however, The Good Doctor is a fundamentally more hopeful programme. This is inarguably the biggest difference between the two shows, each with almost diametrically opposed central perspectives forming. As stated, House always had a vein of nihilism running through it – a product of the eponymous character’s misanthropy, and his distrust and often disdain of those around him. There’s a certain cynicism to House, a programme generally disposed to reach for the dour note and underscore a sense of world-weary scepticism. The Good Doctor, meanwhile, is decidedly more sentimental in approach, more inclined to find and dwell on a positive note – a programme that finds value in life and in people, rather than just pain.

It took me a little while to get into The Good Doctor, admittedly; at first, it felt more than a little… well, rubbish.

Quickly, though, I began to appreciate it more – not just because it improved (it did) but because I realised just how it was being positioned as a spiritual sequel to one of my favourite programmes, House. This is a series in constant conversation with its predecessor – in terms of characters, themes and plotlines – and The Good Doctor ultimately makes a much more hopeful and inclusive statement than House did.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with how the article turned out – it was something that had been gestating for a while before I eventually came to write it, so it was good to get it down onto the page. (I’d meant to edit together a nice image of House and Shaun together, but I couldn’t get it to look nice, which is a shame.) I suspect I’ll end up returning to the ideas I sketched out above at some point; like I said, I really do love House, and I think one day I might quite like to do a podcast or blog series about the show – and, on the basis of that first season, any critical analysis of House that didn’t go on to mention The Good Doctor would be incomplete.

(I do feel, though, that I should also link to the following accounts of The Good Doctor by some writers with autism, simply because that’s a perspective I lack and it’s one that needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of the show.)

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Making a House a Holmes

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Of course, though, House is also a riff on Sherlock Holmes. Consider his impressive deductive powers; where Holmes applies this skill to catching criminals, House applies it to diagnosing diseases. House’s entire process of a differential diagnoses is quite similar to Holmes’ famous method of deduction – once you have ruled out the impossible, whatever remains, however improbably, must be the truth.

There’s plenty of little links and references dotted throughout the series, though; our good doctor in House also lives at 221B, after all – the infamous address of the world’s most famous consulting detective. Further, when House is shot at the end of the second series, the shooter is named in the credits as “Moriarty”; the Napoleon of crime who was involved in the almost death of Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, now immortalised forever as Holmes’ greatest enemy. Even Irene Adler gets a namecheck in the fourth season’s Christmas episode, and in another yuletide special, we see Wilson gift House a “first edition Conan Doyle” book.

My latest post for Yahoo TV, discussing the links between the good detective, and the good Doctor as well.

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House: Is Three Stories the Best Hour of Television Ever?

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Of course, though, House isn’t just a narrator – he’s an unreliable narrator. It’s slowly revealed that these patients weren’t just chosen randomly; one of them is, in fact, House himself. Three Stories isn’t just any other patient of the week – we’re watching the origin story for our eponymous Doctor. This twist is what elevates the episode, making it more than just a very clever episode; after twenty episodes of getting to know House, we’re finally coming to understand the source of his pain. The fact that we’ve spent so long with this character means we’re far more invested with his story than we would be with any other patient of the week; Three Stories has a much greater and more immediate emotional impact than a lot of other House episodes.

An article I wrote on one of my favourite episodes of HouseThree Stories. I’m really pleased with this one. It’s a little too hyperbolic in the title; I know it’s not the best episode of television ever, and I hedge against that in the conclusion of the piece anyway. But it was one of the first pieces I wrote about, I suppose, “proper telly” – and that’s a very loosely defined thing, of course – and it got a nice reaction online, with David Shore sharing it in a friendly way himself. Which meant a lot to me at the time, and indeed still does now.

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House?

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There’s this thing House does (I’m watching repeats) where it’s sort of… semi-serialised. Big things are carried over (like the Huntington’s) but some of the smaller things don’t. And it means that a load of stuff just comes out of left field, which aren’t built up nor are mentioned again.

One I keep thinking of is… Brennan, his name was. The fellow who worked in third world countries and eventually poisoned a patient so he could get funding for clinical trials. Now… before the episode in which he was fired, he hadn’t shown much of an inclination to do something like that before – it was really as though that whole thing had been made up to get rid of him. Which it probably was.

I think that could have been relatively easily remedied by… well, maybe once an episode, or every other episode, he could have mentioned how upset he was about the social injustices of medicine or some such. At least that way there would have been a precedent of sorts.

The same thing sort of applies to Thirteen’s Huntington’s… her shaking was introduced in the same episode the Huntington’s was first considered.

So, yeah. They’ve stopped doing it around the end of series 4 now. Although apparently it might happen again. Hmm.

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