Fans of British comedy know Hugh Laurie as the perfect Bertie Wooster in BBC's dramatizations of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves, and as the sublimely idiotic Prince of Wales in Blackadder.
Now he is the star of Fox's House, which some critics call the best new series on TV, playing a polar opposite sort of character. Here the British actor plays a dramatic role affecting a dead-on American accent. Instead of being good-hearted but loopy, like Bertie Wooster, Dr. House is misanthropic and cynical. Instead of being hilariously stupid like Blackadder's prince, Dr. House is a brilliant diagnostician.
Mr. Laurie shows the craft and the calling of a genuine actor, as opposed to the TV and movie "personalities" who present essentially the same character over and over again no matter what role they play.
The show too plays against type. House is another medical show, but its feature character is not caring and sensitive like the doctors on ER. Dr. House does not even like to see patients, considering most of them hypochondriacs who lie about their symptoms and waste his time. His bedside manner is sarcastic and blunt, and he bullies young doctors. And yet, somehow, he is a breath of fresh air.
House is a mystery show, but one aimed at identifying a disease instead of solving a crime. Dr. House is like Sherlock Holmes, another prickly character, making deductions from shreds of evidence, going down blind alleys, and taking risks. In place of violence, there are nauseating medical procedures, and some of the themes and subjects are too disturbing for kids.
But the stories are intriguing, teach a little medicine, and highlight a fine actor. The question is whether a big enough audience will tune in to watch a deliberately unlikable character in a show that resists the usual formula.