By James H. Burns: In October of 2009, I had a very bad breakup. And during the first week, I kind of vegged out, watching a bunch of television (while still taking care of some writing responsibilities and the like), and finally checking out some television shows I had been hearing about for ages….
My Name Is Earl, The Office… Cable marathons made this rather easy.
And I kept seeing ads for the season debut of House…
Now, some of the promos might have been glimpsed during Sunday football, on Fox, and during that year’s baseball post-season.
I had never watched the show, because… Well, I guess the idea of a TV series that featured a drug addict as its hero — all I really knew about the program at that point — was just enormously offensive to me.
But in the coming attractions…
House, Dr. Gregory House, that is, was in an asylum. For some reason, the physician had been sentenced to a mental ward. The commercials were compelling, and I was fascinated by the idea of a major network having the lead character of a series opening the season behind such bars.
I was hoping it wasn’t some kind of ratings-hoped-for outrage.
In the late 1970s, I visited a friend in a mental ward once, and it was all rather normal, except for that moment, as some of you know about it, after you’ve been buzzed through to the waiting room, and the door LOCKS behind you; in this case, with a never-to-be-forgotten clang.
A door that cannot be reopened without clearances.
About fifteen years later, I had to rescue someone from a Long Island mental hospital, who had been mistakenly incarcerated, due to an unforgivable mistake on the part of the admittance staff. In that case, the day room was entirely normal and pleasant looking. There was no one extreme among the patients hanging out, except that I swear to you, they simply reminded me of some of the more out-there, or eerily docile media fans I would see at that era’s Creation science fiction and fantasy conventions in the North East…
The House episode was tremendously well done, and compelling. I became hip to the incredible talents of star Hugh Laurie, several years after so many had already made the realization.
The writing and production values were equally outstanding.
I began watching the repeats on cable, and soon fell in love with so many of the rest of the cast.
And the writing.
House, for the uninitiated, is a genius, a modern day medical marvel, renowned for his ability to diagnose the most difficult of cases. He has a team of especially talented doctors, who help him treat his patients: always the most unusual, and complex of case studies…
A friend eventually asked me why I was fascinated by the series.
I told him there were two reasons, as best I could judge, aside from the obvious attractions of a well done show. One, it was a chance, for an hour every episode, to hear intelligent people converse. And I also said it was kind of science fiction. My friend, a long time genre buff, was astonished. He wanted to know how House could possibly be considered science fiction? I said, “Just think about it. Ten, twenty years ago… Almost everything in this series — the technology, the ethical issues — simply didn’t exist for the most part. It was all part of an undefinable tomorrow…”
But in those first weeks of happy infatuation, I started to notice something unusual.
House acted a bit like I did, way back in the 1980s… When I was on the convention scene fairly regularly, either as a guest, or as a regular in the dealers room. (As much fun as conventions can be, I made a rather huge mistake: turning my back on a fairly successful non-fiction writing career, to devote myself full time to a pop culture business. But then, I was in my early twenties…)
My rep, back then, was as someone extremely intelligent, but whose humor could — unintentionally, I promise you — be acerbic.
(I am not saying that folks were correct about the first opinion, and the second facet was certainly nothing to be proud of. But I must point out, on behalf of my ego (another House trait, come to think of it!), that in certain quarters (particularly comic book conventions), I was quite beloved…
At least some of the time!
And then there was the way Greg House dressed.
A nice pair of jeans, sneakers (running shoes, to you young ‘uns), and always a blazer…
Which was essentially my uniform for the better part of the ’80s, and well into the ’90s (if circumstances didn’t call for a full suit, and tie)…
House’s limp also presented a parallel. Thankfully, I’ve never needed a cane. But when I was twelve, I was hit by a car, and broke a leg, spending the better part of a year laid up, in traction, then a body cast, and then on crutches, wearing a brace….
Years later, friends told me, to my surprise, that when I was tired, there was still a noticeable change to my gait…
No, I wasn’t into Vicodin, or hookers, or even Giant Truck rallies… (And most folks, until recently, didn’t know about my fondness for cats, and all animals.)
Nor, despite whatever may be evidenced in this missive, have I ever been under psychiatric care…!
But as I watched more and more of the show, there were other similarities… All of which I just wrote off as a fun happenstance.
Then one day, while Googling around, I learned that one of the program’s producers might well have been around me, in the late 1980s… And then, there was the oddest revelation of all, that the producers’ first choice to play the doctor, was Rob Morrow (the gentleman who starred in Northern Exposure, as well as the feature film, Quiz Show).
If you were going to cast someone to play me, as I once appeared, Morrow might well have been many directors’ first choice…
This was all getting a little odd, and ultimately meaningless. At best, it would be another intriguing happenstance. (One incident in my life had more-than-likely inspired an early episode of Seinfeld (No, not “The Contest,” you wiseguys; but it’s a funny tale I still need to write up one day); and there had been a couple of other happy appearances or influences in the works — cinematic and elsewise — of friends, and acquaintances.)
I thought about this only occasionally, as I continued to be enthralled with all the seasons of House that I had missed, along with 2009’s new episodes. (After all, I was enjoying many other series, without any similarities in mind, whatsoever!)
Then, one day, while researching some other topic… I decided to do some more House-digging.
And it turned out, as best I could judge, the series’ actual creator couldn’t have possibly ever known me.
Or even heard of me.
I continued to be captivated by the series, except for some later casting misfires. How could I not have been? The drug plotlines I still found upsetting, but perhaps these could also be regarded as a metaphor:
No matter what one’s crutches, ultimately you have to stand again, on your own two feet…