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Tom Matlack

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House vs. Mad Men

Posted: 10/01/09 07:30 PM ET

Us guys, we love to be bad. And the ladies seem to love us that way too. At least that is the moral of the top shows on television right now. Don Draper and Dr. Gregory House are hardly poster boys for good behavior, yet they capture our imagination nevertheless. The two men, however, have unexpectedly taken quite different paths this season.

In one of the most anticipated season premiers ever, Don Draper quickly finds his way into bed with a stewardess despite his wife's pregnancy.

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In the episodes that have followed we see Don become a somewhat more involved father, comforting his daughter as she has nightmares, but the larger questions about his character and even his true identity lurk under the surface with repeated flashbacks to his own troubled childhood.

As a viewer I yearn for some forward momentum in Don's attempt at redemption as a man, but can't help but feel that I am not going to get it anytime soon. Don't get me wrong. I love the highly stylized pain, and can certainly relate at some level to the existential angst, that Matt Weiner is tapping into. But I am also groping for some answers.

With that in mind I tuned into the premier of House, "Broken," and was pleasantly surprised.

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The old bad-guy-great-doctor-saves-patient formula had grown boring last season (not that I didn't watch that too just for the deadpan humor). In one of the best two hours of television I have seen in a long time, Dr. House is put in a locked ward at the start of the premier. He is forced to get to the bottom of his addiction to pain killers and his inability to connect with other human beings in anything but the most antagonistic fashion.

We get hispanic Broadway rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda from IN THE HEIGHTS as House's obsessive compulsive roommate and an African American psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan, who won't let House off the hook. It's not that we are under any illusion that Gregory House is going to turn out to be a normal, nice guy anytime soon. But we witness his sincere struggle to detox his body and look deeply into his soul. That is refreshing.

More importantly it points us towards a more constructive message about not only the prisoner's dilemma we men find ourselves in--something Mad Men does in spades by having us look back to 1960s to reflect forward to 2009--but also gives an example of how we might move forward.

House doesn't want to tell the truth, he doesn't want to talk about his emotions, he doesn't want to love, he doesn't want to feel pain. He wants to numb it all out. What man living through the Iraq war, the economic meltdown, and the increased demands at home can't relate to that? But numbing ourselves gets us nowhere. The box scores and business pages aren't going to cut it when it come to the male experience as we know it today.

At some point we have to break the silence and get down to what is really going on. Don Draper has yet to do that, and it looks like he will never be able to fully. Gregory House has at least made a start.

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