|House: Season One (2004)
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Chi McBride, Robert Sean Leonard, Jessie Spencer, Omar Epps, Lisa Edelstein, Jennifer Morrison
Edward Vogler must have been responsible for pulling together this first-season DVD compilation for “House.” Played by the imposing Chi McBride (“Boston Public”) in the medical drama’s most noteworthy multi-episode guest appearance, Vogler was the short-sighted biotech billionaire who gave generously to the hospital and then, safely installed as Director of the Board, immediately started cutting corners to improve the bottom line. He giveth with one hand, and he taketh away with the opposite -- just like that other Big Guy.
How else to explain this exquisite study in contrasts, in which one of the most compelling, well-acted, brilliantly-written dramas on television is packaged in the DVD equivalent of a brown paper bag? And a dirty, ripped paper bag, at that?
For starters, the season’s twenty-two episodes are crammed onto three double-sided discs, rather than the standard six single-sided ones. As a result, users must revisit the Dark Ages of laserdisc, and get up off the sofa to flip over each DVD in order to view the other half of each disc’s episodes. For this, we’re expected to pay almost sixty bucks at retail (or even forty bucks, on sale)?
It gets worse, too: There’s no separate episode guide. The back of the DVD case lists the contents of each disc by episode title…which may or may not tell you anything at all about the episode itself. A casual viewer might be able to correctly identify seven episodes based on titles alone; that’s less than a third of the season. As a result, anyone looking to view a specific episode -- say, the one in which Leslie Hope (the dearly departed Teri Bauer from “24”) shows up as a hallucinating homeless woman -- will need to fire up each of the three DVDs, endure the unskippable Universal intro, study the episode summaries contained on each disc, and then potentially flip each of those DVDs and start the whole process all over again. Ludicrous.
And yet… the episodes themselves are entirely worth the trouble. The dialogue is rich, the characters well-drawn, the medical mysteries deliciously complicated. The casting of each week’s central victim is a joy to behold, including such gems as Spy Kid Daryl Sabara as a young patient who may or may not be infected with anthrax, Joe Morton (“T2’s” key Cyberdyne scientist) as a politician on the rise who may or may not be gay, and, perhaps most memorably, Carmen Electra as an allegorical stand-in for a patient who may or may not turn out to be…none other than Dr. Gregory House himself.
Ah, House: The misanthrope whose gruff and prickly exterior shields a heart that is…equally gruff and prickly. Played by the incomparable Hugh Laurie (who was deservingly nominated for an Emmy -- rare for a midseason replacement), this is a man who once told patients at the hospital’s walk-in clinic that “a monkey with a bottle of Motrin” could serve their needs just as well as he could, and who openly berates kind-hearted, vulnerable immunologist Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) for taking a personal interest in him. Even his supposed best friend, oncologist James Wilson (the excellent Robert Sean Leonard) can only tolerate him in small doses.
But that hardly matters. House is a genius, and, despite (or, more often than not, because of) his antagonizing ways, he gets the job done better than anyone else. So what if he hired his African-American neurologist (Omar Epps) for reasons that feel uncomfortably close to racist? Who cares if he taunts Australian Dr. Chase by telling him, “You put the Queen on your money; you’re British”? As series creator David Shore points out (in one of the practically nonexistent extras, another mark against the overall packaging of the series), House is “the guy who’s going to be a jerk to you and then save your life.”
If it were me on the table, I’d like that deal just fine.