Whoever said “laughter is the best medicine” is full of s —
British import Hugh Laurie (Flight of the Phoenix) dons a stethoscope as a cantankerous but undeniably brilliant doctor in this gem of a medical procedural from Fox. It’s a great show, and, counter to the network’s nature, it’s still on the air!
Dr. Gregory House (Laurie) is a renowned diagnostician at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, known equally for his brilliance at combating malignant diseases and his ostracizing anti-bedside demeanor. The man is a curmudgeon.
There are three members of House’s diagnostic team: neurologist Eric Foreman (Omar Epps, The Mod Squad), spunky immunologist Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Aussie intensivist Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer). Each episode brings with it a new, mysterious malady plaguing some hapless victim. House and his squad are tasked with unraveling the disease — often an exotic affliction — before said victim expires amidst a flurry of vomiting and rectal bleeding. There are peripheral character-centric storylines as well. House is constantly butting heads with the by-the-book hospital administrator Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), who doesn’t appreciate House’s quirks. One of the few people willing to endure his caustic personality is his best and only friend, Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard, Dead Poets Society).
As patient after patient is rolled in each week, usually enveloped by some nasty little microscopic bastards, the procedural elements combine with the intra-hospital character dynamics, to produce a highly involving cross between E.R., C.S.I., and Grumpy Old Men.
I really, really like this show. Despite that cheap shot about the network canning embryonic great shows (which, admittedly, is fairly well earned), Fox has managed to turn out some of the coolest, most innovative hour-longs on television. House, M.D. is one of the few shows I religiously tune in to. It’s a good series, and there are tangible reasons why it’s so successful:
Hugh Laurie. Laurie is the main reason the show has distinguished itself from the pack of other dramas. His wildly entertaining take on the broken but brilliant misanthrope that is Dr. House anchors the show. Laurie switches easily between the irreverent and the tragic; at one moment you’re laughing at House’s blatantly anti-PC blathering, the next you’ll be feeling for this guy when one of his many flaws floats to the forefront, forcing him to face it and (usually not) deal with it.
The medical mysteries. House can be as colorful a character as you could want, but without compelling stories, the show would still be a loss. This really is the C.S.I. of hospital dramas. Each week you get a mind-boggling illness, and House and his minions move to unravel the enigma. Though I seldom have any clue what these doctors are talking about, their rapid-fire “differential diagnosis” and mad-dash scramble to revise their theories when the inevitable deadly twist is thrust upon them are exceedingly entertaining to watch. And for you gore-hounds, there’s a good amount of intimate surgical procedures going on here. Want to see a dose of invasive brainwork? How about some nasty skin lacerations? Enjoy!
However, because we know that this show is an hour long, the audience can be sure that any diagnosis within the first few minutes will be completely wrong. Just glance at your watch or peek at the disc’s elapsed time, and you’ll know how much trial and error is left. A few episodes mix it up a bit, but this fairly predictable formula hurts the series.
The supporting crew. Luckily, Laurie doesn’t have to shoulder the character burden all by himself. Creator David Shore has populated his hospital with interesting doctors. These aren’t of the zany Patch Adams variety either; their allure is their authenticity.
Omar Epps is terrific as Dr. Foreman, arguably House’s most gifted underling, but also the one unafraid to challenge him. The gorgeous Jennifer Morrison is able to elevate her Dr. Cameron above a few character restraints, not the least of which is an irritating storyline about her infatuation with House. Edelstein has the typically thankless role as the stiff authoritarian, but injects Dr. Cutty with enough sass to make her a formidable foil for House. Jesse Spencer is a charismatic young actor who is stuck with the jerk role, but I liked the character just fine. And finally, if there’s an actor who deserves as much praise as Laurie it’s Robert Sean Leonard. His Dr. Wilson is House’s only friend, and the duo’s relationship is compelling and often provides the best portal into the confounding doctor’s life.
Additionally, Chi McBride steps in for a stretch as an oppressive chairman of the board in a great arc that finds House reeling. On the other end, Sela Ward did very little for me in her much-hyped guest spot as House’s ex. She’s apparently stepping in full time this coming season, and I fear that this great procedural will transform into a soap. Time will tell.
Like any series, this one has its share of subpar episodes, but as a testament to the writing team and to Hugh Laurie’s performance, even the least impressive of episodes will always feature some great grist for House to chew on. Highly recommended.
Universal is not my favorite distributor of television on DVD, but House, M.D.: Season One is one of the studio’s better efforts. As a package, it still leaves plenty to be desired, though.
Apart from the aggravating dual-sided disc presentation, the set itself looks good. The artwork is simple but attractive. Open the case, however, and you’ll be treated to a rather creepy panorama of all the doctors staring down at you, with less than friendly smiles on their face. I get the gag, but it’s kind of unnerving. What I really miss is an accompanying booklet detailing the episode synopses. You’ll have to navigate the menus on the discs themselves to learn the capsule summaries. And that’s a pain.
But it’s not all a negative diagnosis. Technically, this is the finest Universal set I’ve reviewed. Episodes are presented in a crystal-clear 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. The video quality is superb, and is matched by a surprisingly robust Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Seriously, this is one of the finer technical displays for a television show I’ve seen in the digital realm.
I hate to backslide, but the bonus materials are sadly lacking. What’s here — featurettes on Dr. House, the medical cases, the concept of the show, House-isms (smarmy utterings by the titular doc) and a set tour — are only decent. The extras seem more like promotional materials, featuring only snippets of interviews from the cast. Only the casting session with Hugh Laurie is the true standout; I can see why Bryan Singer was so enamored with his performance.
The accused is released and Universal is commended for a sweet technical effort but chided for a lackluster dose of bonus features.