Magical World, Meet Mundane WorldComplications Ensue
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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

There's a genre of kid's show where the kid lives in both a magical world and the mundane one. The kid has a door to the otherworld and uses it, but doesn't stay there. The narrative problem is relating the stakes in the magical world to the stakes in the mundane world. If he becomes king of Erewhon, but stays a picked-on kid at school (he's always picked on at school), what has he really gained? Because, after all, even kids know that Erewhon is really Nowhere spelled backwards. So traditionally, the structure of this kind of show is: kid has a Problem at School; escapes into the magical world; learns a Valuable Lesson (such as Stand Up For Yourself or Eat Your Peas); and returns to the mundane world where this Valuable Lesson turns out to just the very thing to enable him to solve the Problem at School.

Lisa and I have been working on a doctor show, so we've been watching a lot of HOUSE episodes. (Enough that Lisa has started becoming a bit of a hypochondriac on Jesse's behalf. I'm beginning to suspect that some of the problem with the American health care system is the plethora of doctor shows. People watch them and then expect the doc to MRI their bunions. But that's another story.) I was struck by how HOUSE has adapted this format.

The show has a medical A story, full of barely comprehensible jargon, and a dramatic, personal B story involving House and, sometimes, a member of his team. I've noticed that the A story often contains a resonance with the B story. A man whose right brain can't talk to his left brain because the corpus callosum has been severed appears in a story where we discover that House is delusional -- the intellectual side of his brain has made up a story to account for the actions of his irrational side. In another, a father has given leprosy to his son; meanwhile, Dr. Chase gets a visit from his toxic dad.

And, often, House figures something out from the B story that gives him the answer in the A story.

How very clever of Mr. Shore to adapt this structure for an adult doctor show!



Yeah, it's a sort of reverse structure: Instead of the kid learning from the magical world to affect the real one, House learns from the real (human) world to affect the magical (jargony medial) one.

They have to use this reverse structure, I think, because the audience doesn't really understand the 'magical' parts of House. But by connecting the human, understandable, parts to the medical bits, it feels like we have a handle on those sections as well. It makes them controllable, if not understandable.

By Blogger Rich Baldwin, at 2:46 PM  

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