overthinking the idiot box

July 11, 2005

A chronicle of that most co-dependent of relationships: a girl and her TiVo

Bride of TiVo
In Praise of the Rerun

by Liz Shannon Miller

Used to be, there was nothing new on TV during the summer — reruns dominated the schedules, canned jokes heard many times before echoing in the background while kids played outside and fathers barbecued and young lovers shared one milkshake with two straws.

At least, that's what I've been lead to believe happened: my memory of those hot days is fairly shaky. All I know is that this summer, new programming dominates the airwaves, but with a few exceptions (I love my basic cable sci-fi), I'm taking the opportunity to catch up on shows that I've missed. Reruns are far less a fixture of the summer schedule now, but those few that are rerunning? Senor Tivo is gobbling them up.

Not a Kristen Bell among them, alas.
Via the miracle of repurposing, last November I saw the pilot for House on FX — and while I enjoyed it a good deal, the Hugh Laurie snarky doctor show was then scheduled opposite Veronica Mars, a show about which I've been pretty clear. So I cut bait, figuring that it wouldn't make it past Christmas, anyways — after all, was there really room for another doctor show on TV, even one featuring especially snarky doctors?

Turns out, there was — provided, of course, that said snarky doctors were on immediately after American Idol. So when Veronica Mars wrapped up its first season and Tuesdays at 9 PM were once again fair game, I figured that I'd check in with Dr. House, see how he was doing.

Turns out House is doing great, emerging as an exceptionally solid drama with a brilliant actor at its center. Rather than being strictly a Medical Emergency of the Week program, the show's focus is on its central character (Hugh Laurie), a meglomanaical, crippled doctor whose bum leg and abuse of pain medication would normally keep him out of the office — except, of course, for the fact that he's brilliant.

House is a solver of mysteries — the medical sort. Using his vast medical knowledge and cynical world view (the House motto is "patients lie": thus, he avoids them like Ebola), House applies keen reasoning to obscure medical problems in an effort to determine diagnosis and a cure. The average episode involves at least three near-death experiences for the patient of the week, as House and his team of go-getters try various treatments that go horribly wrong (I have yet to see an episode yet that didn't utilize a crash cart) — but the more dire things get, the more interested House becomes. Rather than being invested in helping others, House practices medicine strictly for the challenge of it — Sherlock Holmes with a cane and Vicodin. (Hell, his best friend's name is even Dr. Watson Wilson: thanks to those who have corrected me on this.)

I struggled to earn my B- in freshman bio, so I'm never totally caught up in the medical side of the show. What I love is the lack of BS, the focus on relationships. The way in which an episode won't end on a lacrosse player, returned to health, caught up in the action of a game — but instead on House, watching said lacrosse player in play, and wishing like hell that they could trade places.

It's a daring diversion from formula, but one that pays off as we come to understand just what House's injury has cost him — and exactly why he's so angry with the world, and so determined to do his job well.
House's disability is central to the show, demonstrated keenly by the first season's penultimate episode, "Three Stories," possibly the best-written hour of television I'll see this year. A simple concept — House is forced to give a lecture to a group of medical students about diagnosis, and proceeds to tell them about three different people who came into his clinic with leg pain — becomes a post-modern roller coaster ride as the audience comes to realize that one of the patients in question was House, and we're learning his back story. It's a daring diversion from formula, but one that pays off as we come to understand just what House's injury has cost him — and exactly why he's so angry with the world, and so determined to do his job well.

It's such a bold approach to network drama — stand-alone episodes, with only the faintest of emotional continuity, and all about a man who you'd as soon punch as kiss, who is at times aggressively unlikable. And thank god for Fox rerunning it this summer, rather than ordering another season of Mr. Personality — because a Bride of TiVo cannot survive on sci-fi alone.

Good news: House and Veronica Mars will be in totally different timeslots this fall, saving me from the heartbreak of choosing between them. Bad news: Veronica's new time slot means that I now have to choose between watching Veronica Mars and Lost at my convenience. I know there's technology that can do the two-shows-at-once programming, but Senor TiVo has been so good to me otherwise; I'm loathe to break up over this one problem. But if next summer's schedule shows the same reliance on rerunning past seasons, maybe we'll be able to work through this problem. After all, a good DVR? Hard to find.

Email the author.

Return to Vol. 1, Episode 8.