A long time ago — way before anyone began to worry about the digital-TV switchover — gods fiddled in the affairs of man. They had powers mortals could only dream of, but their failings were equally renowned. They were drunks and lechers, envious and wrathful. They impregnated human women, sent men on impossible missions of favor, cast down lightning bolts everywhere.
And, compared to the perfect, unknowable, and morally irreproachable God most people worship today, these elder deities were probably a lot more fun to read about.
Modern medical dramas, much like these ancient tales, tell of superhumans walking among us, dabbling in our affairs. These stories too often, though, treat doctors as basically infallible beings whose only moral failings — this is true of the entire cast of ER for the last few seasons — are petty human trifles and the unsteady ground where moralities become paradoxes.
Do I save this young boy or this old man? Damn. You. God! That’s boring. But Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice are worse, passing off office drama and comedies of error as deep human travails. OMG, do I sleep with him? How will I face his ex-wife (whom I work with!)? That’s boring-er.
Dr. Gregory House, by contrast, is a Greek god of a man. He puts his hands and his brain on people, and they live. People enter his office in New Jersey dying, and they leave healed. Basically always. At the practice of lifesaving, he’s the most gifted doctor anyone seems ever to have met. His ability forces everyone else to forgive the fact that he’s wrathful, full of spite, hopelessly unhappy, and an unrepentant drug addict. Can’t live with him, literally can’t live without him.
Of course the iterative trying and failing would get old after five seasons if it weren’t for whip-smart writing, and if not for Hugh Laurie, who possesses god-like powers of impersonation. An Oxford native, Laurie has a ridiculous little twee British accent and an amiable way that he weekly wrangles into the twisted gait and raspy American snarl of Gregory House.
House uses a story form that’s as old as recorded history. It shows how little we’ve changed that such tales of deeply flawed gods are still the perfect panacea for human imperfection. It’s OK that we’re having problems — even the gods who walk among us can’t get their shit together. •
Secret Millionaire Each week a different super-wealthy person sets aside his personal wealth to live, Christ-like, among the poor, unwashed huddled masses. The general pattern is seemingly shock, then revulsion, then frustration, then humanization and, finally, the awarding of a ton of money to one lucky poor person. (Fox, Wednesdays, 7 p.m.)
Leverage Timothy Hutton, who won an Oscar way back in 1978, stars in this as-yet mediocre crime drama about a former insurance investigator who, following the death of his son, becomes a modern-day Robin Hood. (TNT, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.)
Momma’s Boys Dropping a parent in the mix of a dating show has long been a popular stunt. Now that stunt has been given an entire show. (NBC, Mondays, 9 p.m.)