On House

The Way of the Bastard

By Karen Traviss

He’s arrogant, rude to patients, and dismissive toward his colleagues. He’s out of his skull on painkillers a lot of the time. The milk of human kindness doesn’t flow in his veins. Dr. Greg House is a beastly, beastly man.

Hang on, though. Let’s look at him through the eyes of a nation raised on really nasty anti-heroes–Britain. Even one of our iconic kids’ TV characters, Dr. Who, has a long history of being a right Bastard–high body count, abandoned assistants, even a spot of genocide now and then. He’s much more sympathetic in the latest series, but that Bastardness is still there, and remarked upon by the characters.

So, by that yardstick, is House really a bastard? Hell, no. He’s pretty loveable, actually, at least in comparison.

U.S. TV doesn’t seem to do complete anti-heroes. In many ways, this walking advert for Vicodin is more sinned against than sinning. (And we Brits don’t get all the angst over Vicodin, by the way. But more on that later.)

One of the most striking things for a British TV viewer is that so few U.S. series have central characters who are also genuine Bastards. Even Vic Mackey of the sublime The Shield isn’t a proper full-on Bastard. Okay, so he beats ten shades of the brown stuff out of suspects, and murders fellow officers, and steals drug money, but his redeeming features–love of his kids, loyalty to his mates, the willingness to give deserving scumbags a good smacking, sheer physical courage–make him more of a  …

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