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Reviewed by Will Harris
hen “House” first premiered on Fox, Hugh Laurie’s performance as the title character was so strong that he was able to make an irascible physician into one of the most beloved TV doctors of all time. But even at the height of the show’s success, its episodes were prone to formula: Dr. House and his team get a new case, they struggle for the better part of an hour to determine their patient’s malady, only to have House suddenly derive a solution from an offhanded comment generally related to the episode’s B-story. Yes, they’d lose a patient once in awhile, either from coming up with the solution too late or simply due to the fact that the diagnosed disease was incurable or beyond the point of treatment, but you’ve got to mix it up once in awhile, haven’t you? Even Perry Mason lost a few cases. (Yes, really.)
“House,” however, has made a point being about more than a “disease of the week” series, as well it might, given the fascinating creature that is Dr. Gregory House. Over the course of its first five seasons, House has had several different plot arcs going on his life, including battles with a financial backer of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (Chi McBride) and a vindictive police detective (David Morse), issues with an ex-girlfriend (Sela Ward), a consistently tense friendship with fellow physician Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), and recurring sexual tension with the hospital’s chief administrator, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). And let us not forget House’s relationship with the team of physicians who work under him. At first, it was Drs. Foreman (Omar Epps), Chase (Jesse Spencer), and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and when all three of them eventually bailed out in frustration, House spent a season doing a “Survivor”-esque hunt for a new team.
But all of that is in the past, of course, and we’re here to talk about Season Six. Oh, but just one more quick flashback: when Season Five ended, it was with House strolling up the steps of Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital to begin treatment for his addiction to Vicodin, which he’s been battling since before the series even began. This is where Season Six begins, and man, it’s a hell of a two-hour premiere. Indeed, it’s so strong that not only could it work as a standalone film in its own right, but as House works his way through rehab as well as some of the damage it’s done to his personal life, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching it without thinking, “Hugh Laurie deserves an Emmy just based on his work in this episode alone.” Anyone who’s followed the show since its inception no doubt spends Season Six wondering when House is going to fall off the wagon and jump back on the Vicodin express, and that’s part of why it works so well.
There’s a semi-goofy “Odd Couple” feel to some parts of the season, with House shacking up with Wilson in order to ease back into a Vicodin-less life, and it leads to further exploration of their friendship, the bonds of which are tested yet again when Wilson decides to start dating his first ex-wife (played by Cynthia Watros, late of “Lost”). As for the team, the members fluctuate a bit this season, with the original trio working at various times alongside Drs. Taub (Peter Jacobson) and Hadley (Olivia Wilde), a.k.a. Thirteen, and all of them get their chances at the plot spotlight. The relationship between Cameron and Chase struggles to survive the effects of a questionable choice in medical and moral judgment made by Chase; Foreman has a close encounter with his black sheep of a brother (played by Orlando Jones); Taub has to figure out if he wants to maintain further marital fidelity; and – bringing it full circle – the relationship between Thirteen and Foreman struggles to survive Foreman’s temporary bump up in the ranks while House is out of the picture. It’s Dr. Cuddy who gets the best chance to shine, however, in the episode “5 to 9,” where we get to see a day in the hospital through her eyes.
Though it’s hard to argue with the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama going to Bryan Cranston for “Breaking Bad,” this really was a season for Hugh Laurie to shine. He’s always been good as House, but this year really provided him with a chance to delve into more of the intricacies of the character’s personality, asking the question, “Which part of the House we know was the result of the Vicodin addiction, and which part is the real House?” It’s a question that House is clearly asking himself as well, since we see both a surprisingly kind side to him as well as the usual angry, rebellious side that loves to extract revenge on those who he feels have done him wrong. In the season finale, however, it all comes to a head for House, and we’re left wondering exactly what kind of House we’ll see in Season Seven.
Special Features: There are a few episode commentaries here and there, the best being the one for the season premiere, “Broken.” As it happens, that episode also results in a very interesting look behind the curtain in “Before ‘Broken,’” which provides some of the footage shot by the “House” team while on location at the end of Season Five and gives viewers an idea of how they’d envisioned House’s stay at Mayfield going. Further exploration of the premiere can be found in “A New House for House” and “New Faces in a New House,” and there’s one other featurette, “A Different POV,” which delves into Hugh Laurie’s first time behind the camera on a “House” episode.