Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dr House- Sherlock Holmes as Diagnostician

One needs to watch Black Adder or Jeeves and Wooster to appreciate the work that Hugh Laurie is putting in his very successful TV series House, M.D. He is an epitome of British buffoonery and does the wide eyed impersonation of an unadulterated moron with aplomb. Here, in his American transition he is speaking American with gusto and relishing the role of an acerbic, drug addict low on etiquette diagnostician of supernatural abilities. One of the hilarious video on You Tube depicts him taking a quiz on American slang and failing miserably. Completely non British environs of Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital may look alien for Wooster but roots of the character are patently British- Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle has created an immortal character. More than that, he has created a framework of a character where his despicable social skills are condoned only by first rate intellect. In fact, ability to zero in to the crux of situation is the key reason for most of his bad behavior. Niceties are not for Holmes who cut the crap a bit too fast for comfort. His method is based on deduction and he is given to substance abuse and plays musical instrument with some dexterity. Hugh Laurie identifies with the essential Britishness of his character that is uncannily modeled on Holmes.
Dr Gregory House is socially maladjusted, addicted to pain killers and abhors comfort as an obstacle in the way of his deductions. Mystery in his case is about the diagnosis. He is an accomplished pianist and guitarist. He is not into people and avoids contact with patients and deals mainly with his mystery. He puts his mental capability above all comforts and happiness.
Such qualities get accentuated with his racist and misogynistic remarks which come with impeccable logic but with total disregard for good taste. This relentless barrage needs interpreters that keep on reminding the readers/viewers that the genius is following the right moral direction. This task was given to Watson in Conan Doyle’s world. Here we have Wilson, played with exceptional empathy by Robert Sean Leonard. Playing the role of interpreter, springboard of ideas and a perpetual punching bag by a man of exceptional caliber is critical to the genre created by Holmes. The series self consciously conforms to the genre. Tributes come in the form of trivia, some subtle some obvious. House is a play on Holmes/Homes. Watson becomes Wilson. Even the flat number is 221-B.
Hugh Laurie’s main achievement is making the character appealing in spite of his despicable qualities. Laurie achieves traction with his impeccable timing for sarcasm and grudging admiration without ever verbalizing it. He is channelizes wit, vulnerability and brilliance through his character which is a difficult conductor of such exalted virtues. Characters of this breed require a degree of magnetism and Laurie brings that charm with him without being too obvious about it. He tunes in to the mischievous elements of his character with great felicity. His torments are made palatable on screen by the sheer deliciousness with which he delivers them. This is not to undermine the support he gets from the cast. We interpret him through their reaction to him. If they are suitably impressed so are we. That said, Laurie brings lot of nuances and undercurrent with his acting depth. To quote a review from Slant magazine “the show rests heavily on Laurie's shoulders and his ability to recite his lines with a delicate, if sure-minded, punch. The UK native has the chops to hold the hour-long show together despite its drawbacks.”

-Dhiraj Singh

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to meet a Sherlockian :)

    Have you tried the Russian version with Vasily Livanov as SHerlock Holmes.