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House Review

Hop To

by Chris McEneany Aug 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    “You've got three over-qualified doctors working for you. Get on board.”

    Doctor House is in the house, and will consult/insult you now. Overwhelmingly eccentric, and unmistakably British in his verbal quirks, Hugh Laurie's Dr. Gregory House has taken American Network TV by storm and, justifiably so, for he dominates this gleaming, highly entertaining show with a barnstorming performance that literally wipes the smug grin off the conventional hospital drama. With an accent that convinces, a limp that he uses as a veritable weapon and a fountain of eternal sarcasm at his disposal, he takes this atypical role with such assuredness that it is surprising he has not made the transatlantic jump earlier. Leaving alternative Brit-Comedy well and truly behind, he has fashioned an intricately-involving, acerbic-witted genius that, despite his bitter and resentful nature, commands respect and sympathy, the occasional lapses in his pill-popping regime reducing him to a pain-wracked shambles that is, at once, comical and heartrending. With such an unusual and adroitly stylish depiction as this, it is no wonder that House MD has become an immensely successful show. Even if it didn't feature a weekly dose of life-threatening, medical mystery, a CSI-style investigative race against time and some neatly unpleasant CG voyages into disease-ridden bodies, the show would be a winner, skating effortlessly by on Laurie's wonderful turn, all by its itself. But, with all these exciting other factors giving the show a fast-paced, if formulaic, sense of urgency, the diagnosis is, frankly, rosy with health and assured of a long life.

    “Pain killers? Oh, for your leg?”

    “No, because they're yummy!”

    House is a renowned, if difficult to work with, diagnostician, with a particular brilliance for unravelling bizarre, and malignant, diseases. His awesome biological detective skills are matched only his appalling demeanour - this is a man who says exactly what he wants and exhibits absolutely no remorse for whoever's feelings he may have trampled on in the process of reluctantly performing his daily job. When faced with a serious deadline to a non-stop bleeder in risk of losing an eye, for example, he merely says, “Tell him to use the other one and to look on the bright side.” His disgraceful bedside manner would obviously get him struck off within a day in reality, but in this slightly fantasised realm of episodic dilemma, he merely spars with hospital administrator, Dr. Lisa Cutty (raven-haired beauty-cum-ice-maiden Lisa Edelstein) in a flirty love/hate relationship that is as implausible as it is unethical, regularly slates, ridicules and humiliates his own expert medical team and generally puts down everybody who can hear him. That he also saves many lives and proves himself to be a maverick Sherlock Holmes of the microbe-world with a fearless disregard for rules, morality and even his own reputation is somewhat incidental. House truly is an enigmatic character and, having sat mesmerised by his irreverent and often hysterically funny performance throughout this wonderful first season, I'm convinced that no-one else could ever come close to reaching this sky-high level of anti-PC behaviour and yet anchor it with a believable weight of damage and tragic vulnerability as Laurie so effortlessly does. He clearly revels in the role as it affords him so many opportunities for wild and witty wordplay, intelligent interaction and yet provides a poignant aura of mystery that most television characters are denied. Gregory House is an itch that cannot be scratched. Just when you think you can get close to him, he pulls a fast one, turns your feelings upside down and leaves your failings laid bare. Just check out his reaction to a concerned mother about her son's use of an inhaler. In the service of preserving life, he will not pull a single punch - although this attitude can sometimes put him on the receiving end of one.

    “You can live with dignity. You can't die with it.”

    He may not be the doctor you'd want treating you, but he may turn out to be the only one who can save your life. The formulaic approach - which sadly cannot be avoided in this show - demands that some poor soul will succumb to a deadly and perplexing malady within the first few moments, collapse and end up under the scrutiny of House and his hard-done-to team, who will retreat to the war-room to diagnose (wrongly for the first couple of times), agonise as the patient takes a turn for the worse and, under the often illegal instructions from their unorthodox leader, take on a Quincy-style investigation that will ultimately reveal some clue outside of the hospital grounds, and their professional etiquette, that will help House root out the true microscopic vermin and vanquish it, once and for all. Along the way, House often has time for some remarkably amusing interludes with other drop-in patients, the usual authority spat with Dr. Cutter (what a name for a doctor) and, as the season progresses, engage in some ongoing story arcs that will uncover more of the mystery as to his curmudgeonly nature. It is testament to the continually spunky script that the routine never once begins to grate, the procedural elements always compulsively entertain and the off-kilter character dynamics bounce about the show with an engaging effervescence.

    “I know you're not too busy. You avoid work like the plague ... unless it actually is the plague!”

    The supporting cast manage to avoid being the usual ensemble roster of role-fillers by all having a unique relationship to House, and particularly why he personally selected them. Omar Epps essays former house-breaker turned neurologist Dr. Forman with an individualistic approach that often borders on repressed hostility towards his boss. Immunologist Allison Cameron (a wonderful Jennifer Morrison) hides a sneaking affection behind her curiosity for House, yet often appears as the most diligent and sympathetic member of the team. Jesse Spencer plays the Australian intensivist Robert Chase - the continual butt for House's anti-Imperial Britain jibes (“You put the Queen on your money - you're British!”). And Dead Poet's Society's Robert Sean Leonard crops up from time to time as House's one and only friend Dr. James Wilson - the only person who can cut through the man's volatile façade and allow us into his guarded inner-life. Off camera, too, are a great line-up of personalities to bring this inventive drama to life and chief amongst them is no less than X-Men's own Bryan Singer, who exec-produces, directs some episodes and even cameos as a director called Bryan in the episode entitled Sports Medicine. Another guest director is Keith Gordon - who I'm presuming is the busy actor-turned-director from John Carpenter's Christine (as Arnie Cunningham) and the nerdy bookworm from Jaws 2.

    “You were supposed to stop me. Re-negotiate.”

    “And you were supposed to keep on walking. Sorry, I guess we both screwed up.”

    Most episodes run between 43 and 45 minutes and all possess a keen narrative thrust and sense of urgency. One or two stories miss the mark, but not by much, and it is only the arrival of House's ex, played by Sela Ward, that strikes an ominous and vaguely unwelcome note. Unwelcome, because she is reputed to joining the cast as a regular in the next season and that, I feel, can only shift the buoyant air of the show into the more confined and strained format of a soap, adding a needless will they/won't they element to the bog down the trusted style. But, so long as Hugh Laurie is on board to dole out the sarcastic barbs to all and sundry, and particularly, to those he is attempting to save, then I'll stick with it. An excellent show that belongs in your medicinal DVD cabinet.

    The episodes are on three dual-layered, double-sided discs and are as follows -

    Disc 1 Side A - Pilot, Paternity, Occam's Razor, Maternity. Side B - Damned If You Do, The Socratic Method, Fidelity, Poison.

    Disc 2 Side A - DNR, Histories, Detox, Sports Medicine. Side B - Cursed, Control, Mob Rules, Heavy.

    Disc 3 Side A - Role Model, Babies and Bathwater, Kids, Love Hurts. Side B - Three Stories, Honeymoon, Extra Features.