Here’s what makes one of televisions best dramas so good – an unforgettable main character. A compelling protagonist is the most important element of any story, because it’s the means by which you experience the story. The audience assumes the identity of the protagonist, vicariously experiencing life through him or her.
Dr. Gregory House, from the show House, is such a great character to vicariously be due to three things. He is exceedingly eccentric, identifiable, and sympathetic.
An eccentric character is one with a ton of quirks that make him or her unlike any other character in the story, and unlike any character we’ve seen before in fiction. To illustrate how House is one of the most eccentric characters on TV, I’ll list some of his quirks:
- VISUAL: Wears a dress coat over a t-shirt, with gym shoes, to the hospital where he works.
- VISUAL: Uses a cane due to a limp, often with an intense design
- PERSONALITY: He’s a jerk, makes fun of his co-workers and patients in creative ways.
- PERSONALITY: Appears to take very little seriously, including the suffering of others.
- PERSONALITY: He objectivities women without any shame (often overused, but for House it works).
The audience wants to be someone interesting, who stands out, because ultimately, it’s something we all desire for ourselves. Which brings me to the quality of being identifiable.
An identifiable character is one who is intensely motivated to achieve a certain goal, excels at what he does, and has both flawed and heroic traits.
No one is more motivated than House to solve a given case, and he’ll stop at nothing to cure a patient, even if he has to defy his superiors and colleagues. Even if he has to risk his own job and happiness. He’s obsessed with his goal, and that’s how a main character ought to be.
And solving cases is something House excels at, to the extent that even his enemies have no choice but to consider him brilliant. A main character should excel at what they do, because again, we each have a desire to be great at something. Because House has such a brilliant mind, the cases thrown at him have to be incredibly difficult to challenge him, which makes every episode a tense struggle.
House struggles because he is exceedingly flawed. Everything he does seems to bring him unhappiness, and he sabotages his own relationships. Because he is so obsessed with his goal, he tends to ignore and belittle others in his drive to solve cases. He’s also a vicodin addict, which further humanizes the brilliant doctor.
But despite his flaws, he has several heroic traits. House always stands stubbornly upon the truth, even if the truth is hard to digest. And most important, when all is said and done, he saves dozens of lives every season when no one else could.
Now onto what I believe is at the heart of what makes House so compelling – he suffers. As a result of being so obsessed with solving cases, and in turn saving lives, he ignores the drug addiction and relationship aversion that ultimately makes him an incredibly unhappy person. Plus, he is crippled, which provides an immediate visual of his suffering. By seeing House suffer, we sympathize with him, which makes us root for him. Our emotional connection to House means we want to see him succeed, and see him happy. It is emotional investment that forces us to keep watching.
Another way to put it, House is the character on the show with the most uniqueness, the most motivation, and one who suffers the most. That’s how all protagonists should be. It’s well known that his character is based off Sherlock Holmes, which is another proof that this classic formula works every time. Get these three facets right, and you’ll be creating unforgettable characters, which is why most of us love stories.