All Through the House: A DVD Cover Dissection

This man is glaring at his past as a spluttering posho and telling it to shut up. That past is dead, probably of lupus. This is his life now: looking angry all the time, putting people in their place in a croaky American drawl, and just barely dealing with the implausibly complex illnesses of an endless series of ungrateful patients with personal problems even worse than his own. When he’s not doing that he’s appearing on the DVD covers for his TV show, named after himself: House, or as the DVDs themselves insist on calling it, House M.D. (I believe this is to reassure people unfamiliar with the show that this is a medical drama, not a show about a bunch of people all living together with a grumpy disabled man.)

It’s difficult to portray such a conflicted, layered character on a DVD cover, which is why they make little attempt to do so. The covers follow the standard layout (which we’ve seen before), with the main character taking up the bulk of the space, the supporting cast relegated to little thumbnails probably taken from their acting resumés, and everything else a single colour wash which means you can distinguish the various seasons at a glance. If you want to know anything about the show (all news to me really because I don’t watch it), all you have to go on is the photo of the chap in the centre. Let’s see what he’s giving away.

First House: The Tramp

A cautious first effort, before House became an international mega-success more popular then Michelle Obama and the most-watched medical television since the infamous ‘shower’ episode of E.R. This is not the world-conquering, in-your-face genius, this is the socially awkward stranger who won’t leave the building until he finds a comb.

Demeanour: Seated on a plain wooden bench looking annoyed, and more like a patient than a doctor. That bench is really low, it almost makes him look like he’s squatting to take a shit.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: Though House mixes up his wardrobe more than Raymond ever did, and does not share his obsession with the colour blue, there are some clear trends. House likes a) blazers and b) jeans, these representing the opposing poles of smartness which his get-up veers between. He wears jeans to work because he’s no stuffed shirt, he’s a maverick and he does what he likes. But he wears blazers because he’s also a bit stylish. By the same token, he wears smart shirts, but he does not tuck them in. His ‘designer stubble’ is along similar lines: he’s not clean-shaven but he’s not exactly Charles Darwin either.

Intensity: Moderate. He’s sporting his trademark glare, but he’s so close to the ground the edge is taken off it. He just looks angry that no-one’s brought him any soup.

How Big is My House?: Quite small. There’s a lot of empty blue space on this cover. House is off to one side, like the makers of the show want to gradually phase him out.

Other Shitter Doctors: The other doctors filling out the show’s cast, more normal but shitter at doctoring than House, line up here in a fairly indistinguishable mass telling us nothing except that this show has more than one character in it. Someone’s been careful to keep them boy-girl-boy-girl, like a dinner party.

Second House: The Weird Uncle

House grows in size and in confidence.

Demeanour: Seated again (on a toilet?), but looking a lot less like a bum in a train station, here House looks composed but with something on his mind – the uncle beckoning you over to tell you an embarrassing family secret. His hands are relaxed on top of his cane, but the frown indicates he harbours grave news.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: Bang in the middle, just like Season 1. Blue shirt this time though. Hey, if they look good on Ray…

Intensity: Moderate to low. He’s staring straight at us this time with those lovely blue eyes, but he looks more concerned than irritated.

How Big is My House?: Respectable. Much bigger than Season 1 House, though they’re still wasting quite a bit of space here.

Other Shitter Doctors: It’s so boring to repeat things exactly, so let’s move these guys around a little bit and give them slightly different photos. Keep the black guy’s bedroom eyes though. Also replace one and see if anyone notices.

Third House: The Madame Tussauds

House is immortalised.

Demeanour: He looks like a waxwork of someone trying to look casual while watching news footage of a massive humanitarian disaster. He may have one hand in his pocket, but the face is a mask which hides great inner turmoil. Also, the harsh shadow on his face really makes the photoshopped paler shadow look terrible.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: Not yet messing with the formula. He looks exactly the same as he did last season in fact, though we get a clearer look at those trainers. I wish we hadn’t, I do not like them.

Intensity: High. Look at that brooding! No idea what he’s looking at, perhaps he’s staring down a giant?

How Big is My House?: This cover looks like someone really loved this shade of red they found, and only grudgingly agreed to obscure it with some people and a title.

Other Shitter Doctors: Merged now into a single group against an angelic white background, in the same order as last season. This is the most serious they’ve ever looked. Must’ve been some particularly nasty cases of lupus this time around.

Fourth House: The Performance Review

A man so busy he simultaneously writes on a clipboard with one hand and in a notebook with the other. And you’ve interrupted him.

Demeanour: This House is taking the least shit of any so far. He’s wondering why a mewling squirt like you has picked up a DVD which you clearly don’t deserve. He’s summoned you into his office just so he can say, “Get out of my office!” Ballsier Houses are to come, but this is the first to really grip the cover by its lapels and slap it because it was getting hysterical.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: Looks like he might be wearing the whole suit this time and not just the jacket, but it’s hard to tell. The effect is a smarter than previous seasons, but he’s still not tucking that shirt in. He’s working too hard.

Intensity: High. This is a DVD I’d be scared to open in case it contained a redundancy package.

How Big is My House?: Big, and imposing.

Other Shitter Doctors: Even more than normal they look impotent and pointless next to House, like a group of random interns he lets make his coffee. There’s barely room for them.

Fifth House: The Bloke

I couldn’t find a good picture for this one of an American or British cover, so this is the German one. It’s the same except here he’s called Dr. House, which is somehow a much friendlier sounding show. It could be for children, to go alongside Postman Pat and Fireman Sam. It’s appropriate then that this House is the most laid back of the lot, not that that’s saying much for the grouchy old so-and-so.

Demeanour: Taking another crack at the Season 3 pose, left hand in pocket, right leaning on cane. The tension is less, though – here House is chilling. If he didn’t have to hold that cane he’d be holding a pint, or more likely a tumbler of whiskey or something. He’s approachable in an unfriendly sort of way.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: The most casual he ever gets – look ma, no jacket! No undershirt, either, which means that with his customary two buttons undone, we may be getting a glimpse of some of the genius’s chest fur. Calm yourselves, ladies.

Intensity: Low. He doesn’t look happy exactly, but the gaze lacks conviction.

How Big is My House?: Not as attention grabbing as Season 4’s but this is a very respectable sized House. The parallel with Season 3 just makes you wonder why that one was so small.

Other Shitter Doctors: The shitter doctors crowd round House’s head like alternative faces the viewer might want to swap in. It’s a particularly unflattering photo for the gentleman directly to House’s right, he looks like a sixth-former on work experience. On the other hand, the woman on his left is looking unusually sultry, her hair even seems to be billowing a little.

Sixth House: The Demon Headmaster

Last season’s House you’d sit down and have a drink with – if  you saw this guy in the pub, you’d probably piss yourself with fear and then go to a different pub.

Demeanour: His hair has lost its curls, his beard has thickened, and his eyes recede into his head even as the gaze becomes more penetrating than ever. He seems to have aged ten years since Season 5, and now looks like some kind of comic book supervillain. He grips the cane but there is no hint of a lean here. He’s bolt upright, and staring straight at you in an attempt to compel you to hang yourself.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: After all those years as a doctor he’s finally saved up enough to buy himself a new suit jacket to match his greying beard, though the trousers were obviously out of his price range. All these items are the standard smart-casual House look, but the jacket contributes a lot towards making this seem smarter than normal, despite the jeans and the untucked shirt.

Intensity: Very high indeed. If you look at this cover for too long it’ll give you radiation poisoning.

How Big is My House?: Similar to last season, though this House looks bigger because the other shitter doctors are so tiny.

Other Shitter Doctors: They must have been breeding up there because there’s now seven of them, with the addition of Olivia Wilde and the Jewish lawyer from The Wire. Also, are white coats and scrubs banned in their hospital? Or does that place double as a law firm?

Seventh House: The Blofeld

Takes the weight off his feet, but still looks evil.

Demeanour: Sitting on that power chair like he owns the world. The doctor decides who lives and who dies, and he almost always opts for ‘dies’. Is that a cane he’s gripping or a trapdoor lever? He’s actually channeling a bit of the Don Draper übermensch thing, although obviously not as successfully.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: The dress is razor-sharp this time, even down to the shiny shiny shoes and the pocket handkerchief. House means business. We can’t really see the bottom of the shirt, but I bet it’s tucked in. This is a far cry from the disheveled loner on the front of Season 1.

Intensity: High. This is the face of a man who knows where the bodies are buried, who buried them, and what sort of shovel they were using. Perhaps not quite as intense as Season 6, but it’s a close run thing.

How Big is My House?: Enormous, though mostly legs. I don’t know exactly how much trouble House has with that right leg but would it be easy for him to cross them like that? I suppose it’s meaningless to speculate.

Other Shitter Doctors: Back down to five. In a shocking seventh season twist, the blonde lady is gone! In her place, the baldy gentleman from the Season 6 cover. All wearing white this time, and against that white background it looks like House is remembering friends who have died, possibly (judging by his expression) on his orders.

***

That’s all so far. The final season of House is currently airing in the States – in fact, the final episode is going out tomorrow (episode title: “Everybody Dies”). When the DVD approaches release I’ll update this accordingly. I assume they’ll want to go out with the most intense, smartly dressed and largest House yet. I can’t wait to see the attempt.

UPDATE – Eighth House: The Greatest Hits

So it’s all over. House has been demolished, I believe in order to make way for Fox’s new medical show, ‘Bypass’. I know there’d be a public outcry and perhaps riots if I didn’t update this blog post to include the final DVD cover, so to stem that rising tide of frustration and commemorate the demise of this cherished if not-watched-by-me television show, here’s my blather about the last piece of cover art.

Demeanour: This is a collage of various elements from previous covers, making this final cover something of a retrospective. It will do the Lebowski’s-rug job of tying your collection together, with the added bonus that the row will no longer end with that hideous shade of yellow from Season 7. We’ve got a camper twist on the pose from Seasons 3 and 5, the jeans from 6, the jacket from 4, and the face from 7. Hang on, those faces are actually VERY similar – is this a cunningly done photoshop job, or is it just that House basically can only do one expression? Closer inspection is inconclusive. Hmm.

Position on Smart-Casual Spectrum: A nice middle ground. Not the power-dressing politico from Season 7 or the unwashed slob from Season 1, here he may be wearing jeans but the smart fitted jacket shows he’s certainly no slouch fashion-wise. If only the same could be said for his actual posture. I guess it’s not really his fault.

Intensity: Although we have a basically identical face to Season 7, the casual stance and somewhat unfocused gaze make this significantly less intense. He just looks lost in his thoughts while waiting for the bus.

How Big is My House?: Nice big House here, we couldn’t have him sidling off our television screens as a little mini-House relegated to a corner of his own DVD cover (cf. Season 3). Can’t really get much bigger really without starting to obscure up the shitter doctors.

Other Shitter Doctors: I don’t know anything about the plotting of Season 8, but I assume it had something to do with Chris Martin abandoning music for a career in medicine, and Annyong from Arrested Development stealing Ugly Betty’s glasses. Other than that it’s the regular interchangeable hottie woman and the grey cast of hopeless non-geniuses. Congrats though to the black doctor, who is rewarded for being the only cast member other than House still around since the 1st season by finally getting to float directly next to the big man himself, rather than being stuck off near the edge. If only he could pull that sexy face from Season 1 again, I miss that warm tingly feeling it gave me.

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