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TV Team-Up: House’s Slippery Slope

Written by: The CinCitizens

ImageIn this TV Team-Up, two CinCitizens discuss the merits and detriments of the last two seasons of House and come to an interesting conclusion.

Once heralded as one of the best shows on television (if you don’t count shows on HBO), lately House has had to deal with accusations of having become predictable, repetitive and uninspired. The backlash of firing the entire team at the end of Season 3 never truly turned around into a force to drive the show forward into more debates about the nature of death, religion and the human psyche. Or did it?

CC2K Book Editor Beth Woodward has the floor first.

When Phoebe asked me to contribute to this House article, I was fully prepared to write something about how I used to watch the show avidly but I’ve found myself losing interest over the past few seasons.  I was going to write that, although Hugh Laurie is always awesome as Gregory House, his snarkiness alone is not enough to sustain a show.

And then I went online and finally watched the last few episodes of Season 5.  And I remembered what I liked about the show in the first place.

House is among a growing number of shows on television known as “procedural shows,”—that is, shows that employ the same basic structure for each episode, revolving more around plot than character.  (Most of the crime shows on television today are also procedurals).  House has gotten its formula down to a science, so much so that anyone who has watched the show more than about four times can tell you what’s going to happen at any given point in the episode: in the first scene, patient of the week gets sick; in the next scene, House initially refuses to treat, but then decides something is intriguing about the patient; then, the team tries several diagnoses, all of which turn out to be wrong; the patient develops new symptoms, and is usually near death by the 40-minute mark; the team tries a new medication, and the patient starts to get better—until he/she gets much worse again; then, finally, around the 52-minute mark, House has an epiphany, solves the case, and the patient gets better.  (For someone who is supposed to be such a brilliant doctor, House sure has a way of waiting until every patient is on the brink of death before he saves them!)

House is the kind of show that sticks doggedly to its formula—until it doesn’t.  And it’s when it doesn’t that it manages to go from being a decent show to a great one.

ImageThe end of this season showed Dr. House unraveling after one of his team members, Dr. Kutner, commits suicide.  Since Kutner had always seemed like a reasonably happy guy, his suicide simply doesn’t make sense to the hyper-rational House, and he spends the rest of the season trying to justify it in his head.  When he cannot, it begins to challenge his perceptions of who he is and the world around him—with dramatic consequences.  House begins “seeing” his best friend’s dead girlfriend, Amber.  By the final episode, House is willing to go to great lengths to get rid of the hallucinations—namely, give up the painkillers he’s been addicted to for years—only to discover that the visions may not be drug-fueled.  Since I watched the show online, well after the regular season had ended, the final twist of the season had been spoiled for me long before I saw the episode.  Still, that didn’t manage to diminish its emotional impact.

That said, you have to wade through a lot of average episodes of House to get through to transcendent ones, and the average episodes simply don’t feel as fresh as they did a few seasons ago.  House’s new team—adulterous plastic surgeon Taub, Huntington’s-afflicted Thirteen (who lacked a real name until about midway through this season), and the now-departed Kutner—lacks personality.  And the patient-of-the-week scenario is starting to get old, especially when you know House is always going to save the patient at the last possible minute.  Old team members Cameron and Chase got significantly more screen time this season than last, but they’ve still been relegated to background roles compared to the milquetoast new team.

Hugh Laurie is still awesome as House, and I love the dynamic he has with his boss, Lisa Cuddy, and his best (and only) friend, James Wilson.  And the show can still manage to crank out a really amazing episode once or twice a season.  But for me, that’s no longer enough to make House appointment viewing for me.  When I realize that, because of this, I nearly missed this year’s mind-blowing finale, it makes me a little sad.  But for better or worse, I can only devote so many hours to watching television, and House simply does not make my regular cut anymore.

I’m sorry, Hugh Laurie.  But we can always be friends.

— Beth Woodward

Read on for a special surprise and a response from CC2K TV Editor Phoebe Raven.