Thursday, April 5, 2012

Medical Repetition Theatre, House, M.D. - The Complete First Season

The Good: Interesting characters, Good acting
The Bad: If you've seen one episode, you've seen most of them, Special effects, Repetitive plots
The Basics: While the curmudgeon Dr. House is fun to watch, the formulaic repetitions of the episodes of House, M.D. - The Complete First Season make the DVD a tough sell.

When I got my hands on House, M.D. - The Complete First Season I was excited. I've caught an episode or two on FOX and enjoyed the program. I sat down, if anything, biased for it. I was so eager that I cleared my viewing schedule and did a House, M.D. marathon. And you know what? Now that I've done the marathon, I can say with complete confidence that getting this series on DVD is a complete waste of money.

Dr. Gregory House is a diagnostic doctor, charged with finding out what is truly wrong with the patients who cross his path. He lives by the motto "Everyone lies" and tries to interact as little with patients as possible. He is a curmudgeon leading his team of diagnostic doctors who execute his treatments, often imperiling the life of the patient until they manage to get the diagnosis right. Because he is such a pain in the butt, House is also serving an extended sentence in the hospital's clinic to please the Chief of Staff, Dr. Cuddy. Dr. Cuddy finds herself alternately fighting and defending House from patients, doctors and a businessman willing to grant the hospital $100,000,000 . . . for a price.

The thing is, for a serialized show - the characters develop over the course of the episodes - this show is remarkably repetitive. The average episode in the first season goes like this: Patient A is doing something, their vision gets blurry and they collapse to the ground (ROLL CREDITS). House and his team convene to evaluate what the problem with the patient is. House sits back and lets his three apprentices flounder for an answer while he waits, then declares what the proper course of action is or what test ought to be run. Tests are run. House moves on to Patient B in the clinic, who is usually suffering from something mundane, he blows Patient B off and returns to Patient A. Patient A is now suffering something more extreme and the staff returns to the whiteboard to re-evaluate. Usually there is a test here that can be run to make a definitive diagnosis, but it cannot be run for some specific reason (i.e. a metal plate in the jaw that is preventing x-rays, the location of a tumor, pregnancy, etc.) and House sends the staff out to look in a different way. This usually involves Dr. Foreman breaking and entering into the residence of the patient to gain information. A new course of action is prescribed and the patient takes a turn for the worse that will (usually) have them killed by the end of the day. House, resigned to this, returns to the clinic, to encounter Patient B with a new problem or a worsening of their earlier problem, which he solves easily and in doing so has an epiphany about how to better treat Patient A. Rushing back to Patient A, House exposes whatever lie they told (knowingly or unknowingly) that put them in a bad place, a proper diagnosis is given and the patient is cured.

Out of the twenty-two episodes in this boxed set, most follow that basic format. Sprinkled throughout, of course, are character moments where House is called a curmudgeon, insults someone, does something ethically problematic or otherwise interesting and the viewer is encouraged to stick around. Watching the show on DVD, though, it becomes clear that the strength of House, M.D. is in the fact that there is usually a week between episodes. Without that buffer, the episodes become quickly tiresome.

Part of the reason for this is one of the most esoteric uses of special effects ever for a television show. Bryan Singer, director of The Usual Suspects and the very popular X-Men (reviewed here!), is an executive producer of House, M.D. and the general special effect repeated through the first season is a rapid pan into an orifice or blood vessel to reveal what is going on within a patient at a microscopic - or close to it - level. We see a number of blood clots rushed into and obstructed blood vessels. We see nerves firing and by the third time it happens, the viewer realizes that the reason it seems so familiar is that this is essentially the same special effect that was used during the opening credits to X-Men. The problem with it in the first season is that it is essentially the same visual sequence used over and over again with minor tweaks. In short, it's anything but special.

What keeps the show from being completely tedious are the characters and the acting. The characters in House, M.D. are interesting and when their extra-patient storylines offer opportunities to develop them, the shows have a nice sense of flow and easily hook the viewer. When the show develops plotlines that arc over several episodes - never the medical cases - the show is rather interesting. For example, billionaire Edward Vogler comes to the hospital with a $100,000,000 grant and begins making administrative changes and shoving House and his staff around. For five episodes, House is plagued by the need to fire one of his team and Dr. Chase seizes on the opportunity to ally himself with Vogler. It's an interesting set of episodes. Unfortunately, they are some of the last episodes of the season and the viewer has almost (ALMOST!) tuned out by that point.

Because so much hinges on the characters, it's important to know who the primary characters of House, M.D. are in the first season. The characters are:

Dr. Gregory House - The leader of the diagnostic staff, he walks with a cane and a severe limp from a medical condition (it's a surprise revealed late in the season) and is asocial and almost always irritable. House has little in the way of people skills and often what comes out of his mouth is either racist, sexist or just plain mean. He cares about solving medical mysteries and he does it especially well,

Dr. Lisa Cuddy - Chief administrator of the hospital, she is responsible for keeping House employed. While she recognizes his genius, she also controls whether he stays employed or is fired and much of the season, she and House are at odds with one another,

Dr. Eric Foreman - One of three fellows working under House, Foreman was hired by House for his street skills and he often bears the brunt of House's acerbic remarks. Less eager than the other fellows to impress House, he is a competent doctor and perhaps the most emotionally balanced of the ensemble,

Dr. Robert Chase - An Australian fellow working under Dr. House, he resents House's style and seeks to learn in a more comfortable and nurturing environment. Chase is not particularly liked by anyone for his constant "I told you so" attitude when he is actually right. He suffers some from allying with a political enemy of House,

Dr. Allison Cameron - The final fellow under Dr. House, she harbors an attraction to the doctor that goes well beyond mentor/pupil. Cameron is smart, articulate and efficient, working at least as hard to prove herself on the team as any. As the season goes on, she gets her chance to impress House, despite her difficulties with delivering bad news,

and Dr. James Wilson - House's one true friend in the world and a surgeon outside the diagnostic team. Wilson's specialty is oncology and he humanizes House as much as he can, often offering a counterbalance to House's drug-addled rants.

House, M.D. is definitely intended for adults. House is, as a result of the pain in his leg, addicted to vicodin and between that and the clinic level of medical gore, this is clearly a show intended for adults. If it weren't so repetitive, it might ultimately satisfy them!

What does satisfy the viewer is the acting. Robert Sean Leonard (Dr. Wilson), Jesse Spencer (Chase), and Jennifer Morrison (Dr. Cameron) establish a fine base of actors to create the ensemble. All three overcome their Hollywood good looks to embody reasonable facsimiles of medical personnel. There's not a moment of watching them that the viewer is not convinced that these actors are not truly medical professionals.

Lisa Edelstein, who plays Dr. Cuddy, is wonderful in the role. Edelstein was instantly recognizable to me as a fan of The West Wing, where she played a call girl in the first season (reviewed here!). Unlike her other roles, she plays a distinctly different character here. Cuddy is in control and Edelstein embodies her with a sense of education and presence that is uncanny, but completely necessary to sell the viewer on the role. Edelstein illustrates that she can hold her own completely in the role, often going head to head Hugh Laurie (who plays House) and realistically expressing and enforcing her character's will.

Omar Epps is wonderful as Dr. Foreman. Foreman is scripted as a cool, collected character working in an environment that is often insulting and/or challenging. Epps embodies the character perfectly with a body language that connotes tension perfectly when in the presence of Hugh Laurie, but ease when dealing with patience. Epps has wonderful body language and control and he makes the viewer believe and trust his character.

But no one rocks House, M.D. more than Hugh Laurie, with his perfect American accent and consistent limp. I first saw Laurie on the British comedy Black Adder (reviewed here!), where he was absolutely brilliant as a comedy actor. There is no trace of humor in Laurie's performance as the sarcastic and angry Dr. House. Laurie makes even the most outrageous and offensive lines seem natural and easy. He dominates every scene he is in with his casual command of the screen and easy delivery of even the most complicated of medical jargon.

But after all that, the three discs that comprise this boxed set (usually four episodes per side, front and back) are somewhat disappointing. The bonus features are all featurettes that have little real insight (there are no commentaries on any of the episodes) into the episodes and merely repeat the better moments of the season for the fans to see again, out of context.

Were it not for the strength of the character of Dr. House and the acting by this ensemble cast, House, M.D. would be too repetitive to watch, much less recommend. Ultimately, this came down to a razor decision with me "recommending" based on the idea that if one has never seen House, M.D. it's an enjoyable show and if you can get it out via Netflix or your local library, it's certainly worth a viewing.

As for owning, it's hard to justify the purchase, even to fans of medical dramas. This one is terribly formulaic and given its relative quality, that's a disappointment.

For other works with Hugh Laurie, please visit my reviews of:
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Friends - Season 4


For other television shows, be sure to visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment