Is the Mormon character on "House" something to celebrate or to scorn?
Pretty much depends on how you look at it.
For those of you who don't keep up with "House," Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a brilliant but thoroughly obnoxious doctor who mocks everything and everyone. This season has revolved around his search for new doctors to join his team, which is dedicated to diagnosing patients in incredibly difficult cases.
One candidate to join the team on the popular and often ludicrous "House" is a young doctor, Cole (Edi Gathegi), who's smart, sympathetic and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Cole is a BYU graduate, a single father and black, which you could easily argue is a good thing all by itself. It certainly goes against the stereotypes.
Having a Mormon around, of course, offers House plenty of opportunities to be House. Not surprisingly, he is decidedly anti-religious in general.
"Rational arguments don't usually work on religious people," he says in one episode. "That's why they're religious people." House calls Cole "Big Love," a reference to the TV series about polygamists polygamists who are clearly identified as not being Mormon on that HBO show.
"House" writers don't seem to have done a lot of research into the LDS Church. And they think they're a lot more clever than they actually are. (I know I'm very much in the minority here among critics, but I've never been a big "House" fan. As I've written before, the characters don't ring true to me. When they're talking, I hear a room full of writers coming up with the dialogue and then congratulating each other on how witty they are.)
Anyway, given the show's premise and history, there was no "surprise, surprise" when, in one episode, House tempts Cole to drink alcohol. Eventually, House convinces the younger man there's a medical reason it relates to a bizarre case, and he uses the ox-in-the-mire argument and Cole imbibes. Then House turns around and mocks him for it.
In another episode, House bets a colleague that no matter how much he baits Cole, the young man will not fight back. After a particularly nasty attack on LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, Cole punches House in the face.
You've got to wonder if the "House" writers would have dared take on the pope the way they took on Joseph Smith in this episode. Or if they'd mock things that are sacred to Protestants, Jews or Muslims the way they did temple garments (calling them "magic underwear").
Again, they don't seem to know a lot about the LDS Church.
Others have been even less sensitive. TV Guide's Web site refers to "Big Love, aka Dark Religious Nut," which is incredibly offensive on so many levels. (Nice to know that both religious and racial bigotry are OK over at TV Guide.)
At least for local viewers, "House" is a reminder that to a lot of people , someone being Mormon is still seen as an oddity, and the LDS Church is still closely associated with polygamy, even by educated people who ought to know better. (You'd think that 117 years would be long enough for news of the 1890 Manifesto to leak out, but apparently not.)It's certainly not a bad thing to have a sympathetic LDS character on a hit TV show. But it's not necessarily a good thing to have so much misinformation and venom spouted, either.