NEW YORK — It will be painful saying goodbye to “House.”
The Fox medical drama concludes its eight-season run Monday with a series finale at 8 p.m. CDT, preceded by a one-hour retrospective. And with that, Hugh Laurie will be done as the show’s abrasive champion, Dr. Gregory House — unless, Laurie adds with a laugh, “someone comes up with an idea for a stage musical.”
“I feel a huge satisfaction that we got to the end with our dignity intact,” he declares. “I never felt that we did anything that wasn’t true to the character or the show. I think that’s quite an achievement.”
No doubt. Sure, the medical mysteries that formed the core of most episodes inevitably grew a bit formulaic as the seasons piled up. But if the rhythm of the investigation began to feel over-familiar, House never did. On the contrary: He is only more complex, obstreperous and fascinating.
More impressive was how “House” put a difficult, largely unpleasant figure front and center as the hero of a TV series.
“Traditionally in an American drama, the damaged, sarcastic cynic would be a peripheral character,” notes Laurie, who signed with the show thinking House would be just that. “To make someone so apparently jagged and unsympathetic into the central character was a very bold step.”
And there was even more to the brave House recipe: the pain he endured.
Perhaps no TV protagonist has been imprinted so profoundly by a physical affliction. Walking with a limp, his cane supporting his bum right leg, House is constantly hurting. Pain is part of his persona.
“The pain explains, to some extent, his personality,” says Laurie. “But we never gave the viewer any definite answers about how much, and I’m rather glad about that. It’s not that simple: There was a possibility that he might have behaved much the same even without his affliction.”
In conversation, the Oxford, England-born Laurie is not only charming, but witty, befitting his past comedic series “Black Adder” and “Jeeves and Wooster”, as well as, more recently, the “Stuart Little” films.
Of course, “House” had its own mordant comic streak.
“It was EXTREMELY important that the character be funny: He had to be good value for the audience, and also to explain Wilson’s tolerance and friendship. You had to believe that, at the end of the day, Wilson just delighted in the fact that House was an occasionally outrageous but almost always funny character to hang out with.”
House has never lost his funny bone, nor his perversity, even in the face of Wilson’s cancer diagnosis in recent episodes.
After helping Wilson administer aggressive treatment on the sly, on his living room couch, House shares his Vicodin for Wilson’s painful side effects while razzing him, poker-faced, with, “Remember, they’re a gift, so it’s rude to keep throwing them up.”
Laurie chuckles at the thought of such rampant candor.
On last week’s episode, House continued to coax, pester and bully Wilson into not giving up his battle against cancer. But Wilson (who, ironically, is an oncologist) doesn’t want to put himself through more chemotherapy.
“He just doesn’t want to live in pain,” a colleague tries to explain, which triggers a furious reaction from House.
“LIFE is pain!” House roars, his voice at a pitch never heard from him before. “I wake up every morning, I’m in pain. I go to work in pain. You know how many times I wanted to just give up, how many times I’ve thought about ending it?”
The show, which never flinched at dealing with big ideas, is now wrestling with the issue of what makes life worth living —and determines when it isn’t.
Monday’s finale, says Laurie, brings House to the edge of a precipice eight seasons in the making: “Is he gonna step forward or step back? ” says the actor who made flesh-and-blood one of the most compelling characters in television history.
That achievement will live on, whatever House’s fate.