Steve Nash is a great basketball player. I don’t mean to take anything away from the guy. But in the years that Nash won his MVP (2005 and 2006), it was widely acknowledged that Kobe Bryant was the best basketball player on the planet. As such, the award will always be seen as a glitch, a failure of the system in some way. An oversight.
Such it is, I think, with Hugh Laurie’s missing Emmy for House.
This is on my mind, obviously, because the Emmy nominations were announced yesterday and, for the first time in six years, Laurie wasn’t among them. I don’t think he necessarily deserved one for Season 8—it was, at best, a lazy, disjointed season of House (one sensed that everyone involved had a foot out of the door) and, at worst (as when the character House made crude comments to a woman getting a breast exam) it was downright offensive.
But with House, Hugh Laurie has created one of the most compelling, funny, sexy, dark, and indelible characters in the history of television.
In this analogy, Laurie is Kobe and, alas, James Spader is Steve Nash. It’s not that Spader, who won the Emmy in 2005 and 2007, when Hugh Laurie was doing some of his best work, is not a good actor. Of course he is. But his Alan Shore (who?) was hardly an iconic character. He did not create a global phenomenon through the sheer force of his charisma and talent. And 10 years from now, who the hell will even remember The Practice? (Hell, I forgot it halfway through that sentence.)
It’s almost impossible to quantify the brilliance of Laurie in House. There are the technical difficulties, of course—the limp, the pitch-perfect American accent. But mostly there is the incredible richness and complexity of the character. A less confident actor might’ve tried to soften some of the more unsavory aspects of House’s personality. But Laurie trusted his audience, trusted his own abilities to allow House’s humanity to shine through despite his seeming misanthropy. (Can any actor convey more longing and hurt with a single glance?)
This is all the more remarkable when you look at Hugh Laurie’s body of work. The day I realized that the brooding, darkly hilarious House was Stuart Little’s dorky, knock-kneed dad, well—suffice it to say, if I’d been drinking, a massive spit-take would’ve occurred.
No, just because Hugh Laurie—who became famous in his native England for, among other things, doing pun-filled sketch comedy with his partner Stephen Fry and for playing a lovable buffoon in the BBC’s Jeeves and Wooster—has amazing powers of transformation, that doesn’t mean he deserved the Emmy. But it’s a testament to what a brilliant actor he is—to his uncanny ability to lose himself completely in a role. (Even Laurie’s voice was different when he played House—it was growlier, deeper than his plummy British tones).
Anyway, I’m sad that Hugh Laurie never won his deserved Emmy for House (but certainly glad he racked up all those Golden Globes and SAGs) and I’ll miss him more than I can say on my TV screen every week. But history will remember the remarkable character he created. And that’s his greatest reward.
In the meantime, I’m catching Hugh Laurie and his Copper Bottom Band at Ram’s Head Live! in Annapolis in September. Among all his other gifts (did I mention that he’s a director and a talented novelist, too?) the guy is an absolute killer blues musician. Maybe a Grammy is in his future?