You have to be offbeat, damaged to make it as a House

Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe it was just something I ate. (If so, I’m placing the blame squarely on that deep-fried Hot Pocket.) But John McCain is starting to make sense.

Qualified, shmalified. Given the choice between stepping out onto the campaign trail with wrinkly Joe Lieberman or a pageant winner who favors naughty-librarian glasses, the beauty queen wins every time.

And that whole embarrassingly out of touch thing? I get it: McCain has trouble remembering how many houses he owns, I have trouble keeping track of all the Houses on TV.

There is, of course, the original: Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), the pill-popping anti-hero at the heart of “House” (8 p.m. Tuesday, KVVU-TV, Channel 5).

But quirky detective types — “House” may be set in a hospital, but it’s a mystery series at heart — have been springing up like attractive-Manhattan-singles-who-drink-coffee comedies in the wake of “Friends.”

Last season brought Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis), the Zen-spouting LAPD detective on “Life” (10 p.m. Sept. 29, KVBC-TV, Channel 3). And this fall offers Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), a one-time stage psychic who helps the California Bureau of Investigation solve crimes on “The Mentalist” (9 p.m. Sept. 23, KLAS-TV, Channel 8).

So what does it take to be a House?

For starters, you have to be able to spot clues no one else can see. House can make rapid-fire diagnoses on sight. Crews can tell there’s evidence in a shoe because it’s sitting lower on the carpet than its mate. And Jane, using the same powers of observation that made him a great fake psychic, can tell who’s sleeping with whom, who wants to be sleeping with whom and whether a corpse was straight or gay. Jane even deduces that the newest member of his team — played by Logandale native and former Las Vegan Amanda Righetti — is the daughter of a football coach, because, he says, “it’s obvious from your whole demeanor.”

You have to be offbeat. House won’t even let a dying patient keep him from his beloved soap opera, and in Tuesday’s season premiere, he uses a coma patient as a cup holder while watching it. Crews spent last season living in a mansion with no furniture and rarely is seen without a piece of fruit, the more exotic the better. (Crews’ idiosyncrasies extend to the British actor who plays him and speaks in an American accent offscreen as well. “I’ve played so many Americans now over the last six or seven years,” Lewis says, “that I developed, I guess, an American persona that I just feel is part of me.”) And while a teenage murder victim’s parents talk to the press on their lawn, Jane lets himself into their home, rummages through their refrigerator and pantry, and makes himself a sandwich and a kettle of tea. (The offbeat thing rules out most prime-time detectives, although the odd bons mots of “CSI: Miami’s” Horatio Caine inch him closer to that category every day.)

You have to irritate, even alienate, those around you. In addition to his usual shenanigans, House begins the season dealing with the fallout from his involvement in the death of his best friend’s girlfriend. Crews has earned a permanent scowl from his partner for his Zen-inspired doublespeak. And in the premiere, Jane solves a case long before the rest of the team and lets the innocent suspects twist in the wind for his own amusement. (“What I love about playing this character,” Baker says, “is I’m able to sort of invest more of a childlike quality … and have a bit more fun with it.”)

And you have to be damaged. House lives with constant pain and a limp. Crews was wrongly imprisoned for 12 years. And as for Jane, I don’t want to give it away, but it’s a doozy. (This rules out the offbeat, irritating detectives from USA’s “Monk” and “Psych.”)

So I guess it’s really not that hard to keep up with all the Houses on TV. Although next week’s “House” sets up another one when House hires a quirky detective who’s being groomed for a potential spinoff series.

Still, if I can’t keep track of three, maybe four Houses on TV, how can John McCain possibly be expected to remember all seven of his actual houses?

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at

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