I’d like to take a moment to pay my respects to one of my absolute favorite subsets of television characters: the Persnickety Hero-Genius, best exemplified by Adrian Monk (of Monk) and Gregory House (of House).
These two characters (played by Tony Shalhoub and Hugh Laurie) have even more in common than similarly titled shows, matching Emmys, and headshots with eyes that follow you wherever you go. They are both impossible human beings with tragic pasts, incapable of maintaining normal relationships, and extremely awesome at what they do.
There are several important qualities that make a character a Persnickety Hero-Genius:
- The Tragedy. Monk’s wife Trudy was murdered. House’s leg went all to hell in a bad operation.
- The Ailment. Monk is practically housebound by OCD and other fears and relies on his assistant to do anything at all. House’s leg requires the use of a cane and lots of Vicodin, and even more sarcasm and insults. Interestingly, these Ailments were not completely caused by The Tragedy — Monk was OCD since childhood, and House was always an asshole. The Tragedy does make the Ailment worse, though.
- The Ability. Monk solves homicides. House diagnoses weird stuff. They both do it better than pretty much anyone, anywhere, and so their Ailments are overlooked by those around them.
- The Helpful Staff. Monk gets help from and deeply annoys his assistant Natalie (previously Sharona before she found out she wasn’t irreplaceable), long-suffering Captain Stodelmyer, and hilariously clueless Randy Disher, both of the police department. House has the Drs. Cameron, Chase, and Foreman to yell at when he feels like it, and Cuddy to yell at him, and Wilson to play foosball. Each of these supporting characters, though they find the Hero-Genius infuriating, does what he says because they know they’re doing Important Work.
- The Problems with Marriage. Monk seems to investigate an awful lot of spouse-murderers, and House is constantly discovering that a spouse has been cheating or, as was the case last night, attempting to kill his or her husband or wife. This is painful for Monk because of his Trudy issues, and vindicating for House because he doesn’t want anyone to be happy. Either way, it’s not healthy.
Of course, there are some differences. House is damn sexy, for one thing. Monk… not so much. Both shows are funny, but Monk is mostly a comedy, and House is mostly a drama (you can tell the difference from the show’s theme music). And in terms of risk taking, the two characters couldn’t be farther apart.
In essence, though, Monk and House are the same Persnickety Hero-Genius, fascinating to watch, but probably not so great if they existed in real life, especially if you worked for the San Francisco Police or at House’s fancy Princeton hospital.
And finally, I love House, but I’m not this person. That’s an English major really dying to break out her skillz.