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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
our seasons into “House” and the ratings are as strong as ever, but is the quality still there? Truthfully, it’s hard for me to gauge, because this is the first full season of the show I’ve seen. An episode or two here or there before now, but this set was my first full-on foray into the sardonic tirades of Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House - or just plain House. I don’t think anyone has ever called him Greg or Gregory at any point in these 16 episodes (come to think of it, he’s rarely called “Doctor.”) Christian names are seldom used on this show and most characters wander around barking everyone else’s surnames as a means to hail and identify. It’s really annoying. Is this just a TV contrivance, or is it how the real world works and I’ve just been blind to it all my life?
At the close of Season Three, House sacked his team, and the fourth season picks up with the assembling of a new team, via the hiring of 40 people, and the subsequent whittling down of those until only three remain. The producers liken the gimmick - which spans the first half of the season - to a reality series, and early on House pulls a funny by parodying a “Survivor” tribal ceremony. A little unscientific research revealed that numerous hardcore “House” fans didn’t appreciate the ongoing gag, and I can’t say I blame them. “House” is the kind of show that thrives on being predictable, and upsetting the formula by bringing in a bunch of new cast members doesn’t equal comfort. Oddly, the original three members of House’s team, despite the shakeup, are still around, although Omar Epps is the only one who really has anything to do. Getting back to predictable - which the series mostly is - nearly every episode has exactly the same beats and structure, which maybe isn’t so bad if you’re watching it from week to week, but can become tiring when plowing through a box set.
Another big problem with the show is its characters, or rather the lack of character. I know, I know – somebody out there is screaming at these words, but the truth is that everyone on this show speaks as if the same machine is generating their words. Make no mistake, it’s a witty, intelligent machine, but one that has no sense of individuality and certainly no sense of realism. Everybody on this show always has the sharpest thing to say in every situation. If we were able to talk this way to each other in real life, we’d never be able to truly communicate, because we’d all be gawking in awe at the cleverness of what everyone around us is saying, and in turn thinking about what we can say that will one-up them. Not that “House” is under any obligation to mirror real life, mind you, since it is a TV show and all. What seems phony and hollow to me is undoubtedly endlessly amusing to legions of viewers. Ahhh, but I have something that many a “House” fan does not – and that’s an appreciation of Hugh Laurie dating back to the late ‘80s, when I first saw him on “Blackadder.” I’m the kind of guy who watched “101 Dalmatians” waiting for his next scene. How is it that this immensely popular program drives me to loathe this asshole of a character so thoroughly that it makes me question my love of all things Laurie? In my previous - albeit brief - dalliances with the show, I don’t recall him being this aggressively unlikable. It’s an amazing feat that a character so repugnant has captured the gaze of so many TV viewers. Perhaps it is a testament to Laurie’s charisma that he pulls it off week in and out without turning off viewers.
It probably sounds as if I hate this show, but that’s not really the case. It manages to be fairly engaging TV despite all the minuses listed. The stories are ultimately what kept me interested, and regardless of the predictable format, the actual content is generally intriguing. The concept revolves around House getting all the medical cases that nobody else is able to solve, and the results of nearly every case surprised me (of course I’ve always been lousy at figuring out mysteries, so perhaps it’s not such a big surprise). Season standouts include the haunting “Guardian Angels,” featuring a woman who can seemingly communicate with the dead. “Ugly” is a particularly moving story of a severely disfigured young man. “Whatever It Takes” sees House hired by the CIA to figure out what’s wrong with a secret agent. That episode, guest starring Michael Michele and Holmes Osborne, was one of the few where the rapid-fire witticisms really worked.
“Frozen,” which aired after Super Bowl XLII and guest stars Mira Sorvino, revolves around a woman in dire circumstances trapped at the South Pole. House must conduct his analyses (as well as his sleazy harassment) via webcam. In “Living the Dream” House kidnaps his favorite soap star (Jason Lewis of “Sex and the City”) and insists he’s got a brain tumor. But the season comes to an unbelievably schmaltzy and melodramatic end with its two-part finale, when all of a sudden everyone conveniently cares about one another after they’ve spent the season hurtling insults and dicking each other around. For a hardcore devotee it may be “House” 101, but for a newbie it was pretentious nonsense. Special mention, however, must be made of actress Anne Dudek (“Mad Men”) who stands above and apart from everything else in the season, and always makes more than the most of the material she’s working with. I predict she’s an actress who’s going to hit it big within the next few years. If not, then Hollywood isn’t paying attention to the right people.
Special Features: “House’s Soap: Prescription Passion” is a selection of scenes from House’s favorite soap, which I suppose might be of interest to hardcore fans, but failed to amuse me on any level. “New Beginnings” is a featurette on the rejiggering of the show for Season Four. Four others featurettes entitled “Meet the Writers,” “The Visual Effects of ‘House’,” “Anatomy of a Scene: The Bus Crash,” and “My Favorite Episode So Far…” are fairly self-explanatory. Lastly, there’s exactly one commentary track for the penultimate episode of the season, “House’s Head,” which features creator David Shore and exec producer Katie Jacobs.