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"Pilot," "Paternity," "Occam's Razor," "Maternity," "Damned if You Do," "The Socratic Method," "Fidelity," "Poison," "DNR," "Histories," "Detox," "Sports Medicine," "Cursed," "Control," "Mob Rules," "Heavy," "Role Model," "Babies & Bathwater," "Kids," "Love Hurts," "Three Stories," "Honeymoon"
by Bill Chambers The high-concept premise of "House M.D." is, like that of executive producer Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, ultimately fraudulent. After all, for us plebes, there's no way of knowing whether the "Sherlock Holmes of Medicine" lives up to his billing, save his addiction to an opiate. (I'm reminded of that inside-baseball wannabe Brown Sugar, in which the characters cringe at the alleged awfulness of a hip-hop act that sounds to the untrained ear exactly like every other hip-hop act.) As the head of "diagnostics" at the fictitious Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, unorthodox Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) uses an informed process of elimination to cure anomalous illnesses (one per week, it's self-reflexively pointed out), but as the patients invariably go from bad to worse to healed, civilian audiences are denied the basic level of interactivity that is the raison d'être of the whodunit. "House M.D." is a "C.S.I." clone--right down to the impromptu Innerspace tours of the bloodstream--with science no longer the pretext but the text itself.
Perhaps recognizing the specialized nature of the central mysteries, the series gradually comes around to rejecting the Dick Wolf philosophy of denying the investigator a private life. In the sense that the principals are not total ciphers, "House M.D." stands out from the current glut of crime procedurals but recedes into a vaster crop of prime-time medical soaps, as there are only so many possible variations on the interpersonal dynamics among doctors.1 The show's trump card is, alas, one played almost to the exclusion of the rest of the deck: Though Laurie does the network-TV equivalent of fellow Brit Ian McShane's awesome work on HBO's "Deadwood", it's a shame to see him upstage his co-stars not merely because, well, Hugh Laurie is to Jesse "Molly Smiles" Spencer as Meryl Streep is to the mentally-challenged guy she had a scene with in Stuck on You, but also because the script is rigged. Think early Bill Murray: Part and parcel of his quick-wittedness, House is an exquisite smartass--so much so that shameful laughter should trail him everywhere. Yet his zingers invariably draw exasperated sighs, pursed lips, and impatient glares; according to "House M.D.", it's impossible to chuckle in spite of oneself.
A sanctioned conduit of the Hollywood liberal id by virtue of a physical handicap2 (Did he just tell a woman she had nice "funbags"?! Did he just pass a Vicodin to an outpatient like a breath mint?! Did he just lament the vilification of lowly smokers?!), House is nonetheless sheepishly surrounded by a chorus of guilty consciences: underlings Foreman (Omar Epps), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Chase (Spencer); unlikely friend and oncologist Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard); and hospital administrator Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). Even if House is passive-aggressively canonized at the end of every episode, with the show projecting a constant "Stunt Asshole: Do Not Attempt" disclaimer through its priggish supporting characters, it all begins to feel a little disingenuous. (Given that "House M.D." really overstates House's misanthropy, it's perhaps no surprise to see pariahdom routinely confused with iconoclasm.) Still, House himself is such a vortex that it's easy to get sucked into the series, whose tawdry contrivances are somehow legitimized, if never camouflaged, by Laurie's charisma. And even relatively lesser episodes--such as the risible "Mob Rules" (1.15), wherein a mob informant (Joseph Lyle Taylor) accidentally comes out to his homophobic brother (Titanic's Danny Nucci) while in a coma--seem to prove Hitchcock's axiom that we'll stick by anyone who's good at his job and validate Stephen King's attendant assumption that people love reading about work.
Universal has committed a rather significant faux pas in issuing the 22 episodes of "House M.D.: Season One" on DVD, as they've mastered the 1.78:1 widescreen show in 4:3 letterbox. This will be a legitimate deal-breaker for most, considering that HD owners have had the opportunity to watch the series in 16x9 since its broadcast debut. That being said, "House M.D." is one of the more attractive programs on television, the incongruous Sky Captain aesthetic of the Singer-helmed pilot episode ("You're orange!" House barks at a jaundiced patient--which is sort of meta-funny in that everybody's orange) quickly jettisoned in favour of a morning-dew aesthetic--and it, at least, is honoured by the presentation. Meanwhile, the accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 audio gets some discrete mileage out of the show's theme song (a streamlined version of Massive Attack's "Teardrop") and EMT-style hubbub.
Six featurettes--"The Concept" (5 mins.), "Casting Session with Hugh Laurie" (1 min.), "Medical Cases" (4 mins.), "Set Tour" (6 mins.), "House-isms" (4 mins.), and "Dr. House" (7 mins.)--supplement the third and final double-sided platter. As you can probably surmise from the running times, these aren't exactly in-depth, but worse, footage sometimes repeats itself across two or three of them. Of the creative principals chiming in here, Laurie and producer David Shore (who cops to the inherent cynicism of doing "C.S.I." in a clinic) fare the best while Singer, in interviews obviously captured before the series premiered, fares the worst; the notoriously short-tempered Singer 'confesses' to identifying with the titular genius as if he's just compared himself to any old crank and not the Fonz. (It's bogus self-flagellation that actually puts a damper on the package.) On the other hand, when Singer calls House the character "you hate to love but love to hate"--now that sounds autobiographical. Kirsten Dunst clone Morrison is adorable hosting said set tour, however, and Laurie's audition tape, recorded in a hotel bathroom in Namibia during the filming of Flight of the Phoenix, offers a fascinating glimpse at House in a primordial state. The first season of "House M.D." docks on the format in a gatefold/slipcase combo. Originally published: September 6, 2005.
1. You could write off the best medical hour-long currently on TV, "Nip/Tuck", in the same way were its antecedents "Scrubs" and "Trapper John, M.D." instead of Cronenberg and Jacqueline Susann. Both series, for instance, have an episode in which a pious former junkie checks in with stigmata-like wounds; "House M.D." deals with the situation very, well, clinically, whereas on "Nip/Tuck", the victim turns out to be part of an elaborate scheme to defraud the church, one that entails nuns tampering with DNA evidence! return
2. "House M.D." proper seems to take its crip protag as license to demonize wealthy blacks (as in a primitively button-pushing story arc involving an African-American billionaire (Chi McBride) buying a controlling stake in the hospital and subsequently enslaving its conspicuously lily-white staff) and behave in a generally misogynistic fashion. return