Remember the halcyon days of the Fall TV Season of 2003, when we had the battle of the “girls dealing with the universe” shows? Wonderfalls was great, but was cancelled after four episodes. Joan of Arcadia was very good, has found its legs, and is flourishing. And Tru Calling, which was mediocre on its best days, was mercifully cancelled after one season. These days we have House versus Medical Investigation competing for audience’s attentions with similar premises. The upshot? House wins.

Medical Investigation is a way station for actors and actresses whose shows were cancelled last season: Neal McDonough (Boomtown), Kelli Williams (The Practice), Christopher Gorham (Jake 2.0) and Anna Belknap (The Handler). Sticking closely to the CSI model of the procedural, the members of the mobile medical team from the National Institute of Health pursue disease outbreaks instead of murder scenes. The gimmicks that define the show include the blue tones that it is filmed in can be distracting, especially when one week their patients were turning blue; and the “brain blasts” (a la Jimmy Neutron) when Dr. Stephen Connor (McDonough) finally pieces together the case. However, the show is formulaic to the point of boredom: people get sick, staff looks for commonality among the patients, they run down a series of dead ends and bad leads, Dr. Connor has his brain blast, and a treatment is found. No twists, no turns, little character development; it’s like the constraints of their job limits what the writers can do with them. No amount of camera trick shots or special effect depictions of an illness will cover up a lackluster script; nor does a character’s earnestness equal an interesting character. You want better for the talented cast, but either this dour show needs to improve quickly or they need to fire their agents and put this snooze-fest behind them.

House on the other hand is everything that Medical Investigation is not. Witty, interesting, and filled with characters that, even if you don’t like, you want to watch. One of the things you learn when looking at a new show is to study its pedigree. House’s executive producers include Paul Attanasio (Homicide: Life on the Street, Gideon’s Crossing), creator David Shore (The Practice), and Bryan Singer (director of X-Men, X-2, and The Usual Suspects). Granted, pedigree doesn’t always equal greatness, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

In Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) we have a hero who is cavalier, cranky, and more than a bit of a jerk. “What would you want: a doctor who holds your hand while you die or who ignores you while you get better?” Brilliant, yet easily bored, the soap opera-loving doctor doesn’t like dealing with patients (he treats illnesses, patients make him miserable). He has to be power-played into working in his hospital’s clinic. He doesn’t believe that he’s always right, he just finds it “hard to operate on the opposite assumption”. Life’s too short and too painful, so he says what he thinks: “Humanity is overrated,” a question may seem rhetorical “when you can’t think of an answer,” “gorgeous women only go to medical school if they’re damaged,” and he tells a patient that his wife must be having an affair because he turned orange and she didn’t notice.

His staff is made up of (his) hand picked experts form a kind of super hero team, with each member specializing in a different area and bringing a unique skill set. Omar Epps’ character, Dr. Taylor Foreman, brings street smarts, as well as his medical specialty, and another character is told that she brings, well, a pretty face. The characters have a reason for being and doing, motivations beyond robots doing so for the love of the job. In a lot of ways, this is a similar medical whodunnit type show that Medical Investigation is, investigating all manner of mysterious diseases, except that it does so against the backdrop of a hospital with all of its attendant politics and patients.

“Our bodies break down … it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it.”
“We’re to live with dignity, not die with it,” Dr. House snaps (almost all of his dialogue seems to be him snapping). Dr. House had an infarction in his thigh, and due to a mis-diagnosis, he ended up with a limp. His handicap reminds us of our own weakness. Along with these broken bodies we need to seek cures, seek doctors. Doctors aren’t here to help the healthy, but the sick. This mission statement is true of all of us: We are not sent to be served but to serve.

We have a love and fascination with our doctors. The medical drama is part of a longstanding tradition and one third of the trinity of television genres: medical shows, legal shows, and police shows. Right now, the steady-creaking-after-all-these-years ER and the wonderful sitcom Scrubs seem to be carrying on the tradition. House has smart dialogue, style, and a healthy dose of humor. Yes, its lead character has the bedside manner of a total cad, but it’s amazing how good a show can be when it has characters you want to watch.