My Home Delusion

HouseCastSeason1By 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…

22 thoughts on “My Home Delusion

  1. Well, my reaction to House was rather different back in 2005. Could only bear to watch one episode, because from my PoV, House wasn’t a medical genius, he was a public menace. I was really, really aghast at how much of an unethical, dangerously loose cannon he was being depicted as. I can understand the appreciation for Laurie’s acting, but not for the show he starred in.

  2. Bruce Arthurs: from my PoV, House wasn’t a medical genius, he was a public menace. I was really, really aghast at how much of an unethical, dangerously loose cannon he was being depicted as

    I spent many years in a relationship with/married to a doctor. And all I can say is that there are a lot of loose cannons out there. Surgeons who are such prima donnas that they would throw a hissy fit during an operation, throw a surgical stapler across the room, and stalk out — leaving the patient still open and anesthetized on the table. Doctors who have serious personality disorders which make them the sort of people you would not trust with anything… never mind your life, or that of someone you love. I don’t agree with glamorizing such doctors. But I think that House was actually a much closer reflection of reality than a lot of people realize.

  3. Hugh Laurie also thought that House was going to be a minor character in the show when he auditioned.

    There was a point in the series it was clear the writers of HOUSE were lifting ideas used in SCRUBS and that show produced a House parody.

    And House, the character, was damaged goods, and would never allow himself to be happy.

  4. A friend of mine works in one of the largest hospitals in Sweden. In it they have two doctors who can’t stand each others. If they should meet each other in a corridor, they will start screaming at each other until people arrive and pull them apart. One of them always screams the same thing: “COOL DOWN; YOU FUCKER!”.

  5. I used to watch both House and Scrubs, giving on both of them before their runs ended. So I wasn’t aware that Scrubs had parodied House; do you know when that episode ran? God bless Netflix & Amazon Prime.

  6. “Try reading. Idiot.”

    Oh. I’m sorry!

    (That was my House impression….)


    But if you read the piece, you’ll see that your assertion is off…

    And, me:

    A New Yorker, born and bred!

    But thank you for asking.


  7. The drug-addicted hero is something millions had admired for decades before HOUSE, since it’s one of the many, many things the show borrowed from Sherlock Holmes…

  8. Bruce Arthurs: Well, that’s terrifying.

    I’m not saying that all doctors are like this — or even that a majority of them are. But some of them are. Highly-intelligent people with god complexes are often drawn to medicine the same way that people who want to have power over others are often drawn to careers in the military or the police.

    If you’ve never seen the film “The Doctor” starring William Hurt, it’s well worth watching. It’s based on the experiences of a real doctor, both as a doctor and a patient. It’s an eye-opener.

  9. JJ: “But I think that House was actually a much closer reflection of reality than a lot of people realize.”

    Bruce Arthurs:

    “Well, that’s terrifying.”

    You’re right; it *is* terrifying. And it’s absolutely true. I see it on the job far more often than you might believe.

    Curt Phillips, RN

  10. I watched the show from the beginning but was still floored by the episode which had a scene outside his residence. His address was 221B. And if we hadn’t got the hint he referred to his friend as “Dr. Wilson”, very close to another fictional doctor whose name was different only in the second and third letters.

  11. Oh, I’ve had plenty of experience with doctors, between my own experiences and my wife’s. Most doctors we’ve seen have been good, some have been great, and there have been a few annoying or non-listening enough that we’ve changed to different doctors. But the only genuinely -bad- doctors I’ve encountered, ones who shouldn’t be practicing medicine at all, were the ones who ended up in occupational clinics, where “treatment” meant treating people with workplace injuries like liars, frauds and thieves. (Don’t get me started on -that- experience. More than a decade later, my blood pressure still goes up and my teeth clench.)

  12. >> I watched the show from the beginning but was still floored by the episode which had a scene outside his residence. His address was 221B. And if we hadn’t got the hint he referred to his friend as “Dr. Wilson”, very close to another fictional doctor whose name was different only in the second and third letters.>>

    Heck, the first person we see him treat is named Adler, a cliffhanger involved a patient named Moriarty, Wilson’s address is also 221B…it just keeps being acknowledged in the show.

  13. IIRC they were pretty open about the Holmes riffs, to the point that at least one produer described the show as “Sherlock Holmes, but the criminal is a diasese”

  14. I can recall an ancient episode of BEN CASEY, where the problem doctor was experimenting with something called LSD 25. This was in 1962. I noted this because SIENCE DIGEST had a story in it about two year previous about the drug. I wonder if it was Fritz Leiber who selected that story.


    Well, one secret, anyway!


    In the mid 1980s, out of nowhere, the local NBC station in New York began running BEN CASEY repeats, in the middle of the night, two episodes back-to-back, from two to four in the morning…

    There were a whole bunch of writers and artists up in the midnight hours, and many in my acquaintance began watching the series. I had never seen it, and was knocked out that, the first seasons in particular, are just terrific drama. The last season or two adopted a kind of soap-opera continuing story approach, but there a number of knock-out episodes in those first years… Some, in fact, again approaching science fiction areas, in that they were dealing with issues of ethics, and science.

    (There is one very odd episode, where a patient decides to have BRAIN surgery, without anesthetic….)

    The guest casts were the cream of the crop for early 1960s television.

    The second half of the last season on ABC was actually concurrent with the start of the BATMAN TV show phenomena. (BEN CASEY, and other series, still in black-and-white, as the pop culture world was exploding into a myriad of hues.) It’s odd, in retrospect, to think how some shows which seemed so locked in a certain period of time, almost made the transition to the next era, of the 1960s.

    (And “sub-dural hematoma” became sort of an odd catch-phrase, for a while, among some in the science fiction and fantasy world, and elsewhere, who were watching! 😉

  16. Guest stars were the norm, as you can see with any number of shows from that time period, such as ROUTE 66, NAKED CITY, SARGENT BILKO, ALFRED HITCHCOCK, THE TWILIGHT ZONE…in THE NAKED CITY, Peter Falk has a wordless role in which he throws acid in someone’s face…many of the actors were up and going on to better things…think William Shatner.

  17. An unexpected treat, as the Mets’ four game sweep keeps me from sleeping…


    For those of you who love HOUSE M.D., some early season bloopers…

  18. And a really extraordinary compendium, 177 episodes in seven minutes…

    What does this have to do with science fiction, aside from that already stated?


    As the series’ budget increased, in later seasons, there were some remarkable science fiction and fantasy sequences, usually in the pre-credits stuff…

    And there was a remarkable kind of magic realism hallucination episode, or episodes, where House had to solve a mystery,and save a life, based on his imagination, or a haunting…

    And then, in the final show, a tip of the cap to THE PRISONER…

    But you’ll get some of the idea, here:

  19. As a visual artist and a longtime fan of Hugh Laurie I am mildly amused at the visual trickery in the publicity photo at the top of the page. It is taken from an extremely high angle looking down so that Laurie’s head is level with the men standing two rows behind him rather than towering over everyone.

    I have long admired the range demonstrated by Laurie’s shift from ridiculous British comedy to dark American-accented drama.

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