House, M.D.: Season 7
It may seem that if network managers to produce a hit television series they would be blissfully content but the truth is the pressure to keep that show on the top has to be considerable. The very factors that created the successful atmosphere that drew millions of faithful fans could become a boa constrictor that crushes the life out of that very same series. There is the exceptionally fine line drawn between keeping a popular show fresh and exciting and retaining the elements that drew the audiences in the first place. Usually, this quagmire surfaces within the first couple of seasons of the series but the effect can become exacerbated if the show is capable of surviving a longer time. For the Fox network this was demonstrated in one of their flagship series, ‘House, M.D.’. The show is currently poised to enter its eight season so naturally the seventh season has been released on DVD. In many ways this was a rebuilding year for the popular medical mystery series, a season that had the dual burden on wrapping up several key themes from the past as well as re-setting the stage to carry on into the future. This is certainly not an uncommon occurrence but unfortunately, many series fail to emerge from this process intact. Frequently, a significant change in direction, format or cast becomes the ramp leading up to the infamous jump over the proverbial shark. Thankfully, in the case of this quirky medical mystery series all indications point to the producers sticking the landing and continuing on to retaining its reputation. ‘House, M.D.’ not only hung on and survived most of the aforementioned tribulations but every sign present indicates there is still a bright future to this exceptionally imaginative show. Fox has a history of ruining their best series, ‘Firefly’ comes readily to mind, but at least in this specific instance they respected the considerable talent behind the show and the fans that have made the series the steady success it has become. Because this seventh season was very much a transitional one it naturally came across as uneven in its audience acceptance but one notable thing must be said; they never compromised on the overall quality.
The original premise of the series was to create a modern version of the world’s most famous detective Sherlock Holmes, transplanting him to a modern medical environment. The defining characteristics such as his best friend, James Watson, his misanthropic nature, drug addiction and monumental deductive genius were all nicely blended into the series with a tongue in cheek fashion that was brilliant in its often subtle execution. Throughout the course of the first six seasons the character of Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) underwent numerous major changes. He moved out of his 221 B apartment to move in with his best friend James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) creating a definite ‘Odd Couple’ vibe to the out of hospital scenes. The sexually charged cat and mouse game House has been playing with his boss, Dean of Medicine Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) was finally and passionately consummated leading many fans to fear the dreaded ‘Moonlighting’ of bringing the antagonistic lovers together would ruin the show. Finally, one of the defining elements of Houses’ personality, his addiction to Vicodin had to be handled in a more believable fashion without destroying a fundamental reason for the character’s critical anti-social personality. Anyone of these changes would have destroyed a series but the elemental value held true resulting in renewed potential.
As the season begins House has plummeted to rock bottom. He managed to go through an inpatient detoxification and regained his license to practice medicine but the growing pressures without the relief afforded by drugs finally became more than he could bear. Ripping the medicine cabinet out of the wall to uncover a hidden stash of Vicodin he is about to throw all his progress away until Cuddy stops him. The simmering relationship is consummated and they are finally a couple. The writers wisely eased the audience into this change throughout the course of several episodes that initiated this season. One episode with comical overtones has House and Cuddy playing hooky from their hospital responsibilities to remain in bed. This leads to a public disclosure and a change in the overall dynamic of the series. Now the playful antagonism between the two is altered to accommodate the dual nature of their new relationship; a romantic couple and boss-employee. This alters Houses’ interaction with Wilson resulting in a more targeted inference in the life of his only friend.
One of the most popular characters, Dr. Remy 'Thirteen' Hadley (Olivia Wilde) takes a leave of absence ostensible to address a medical condition but in reality it was to permit Wilde an opportunity to pursue her rising film career. She does eventually return but in the interim House is pushed by Cuddy to hire another female for his team. The result is the addition of medical student, Martha Masters (Amber Tamblyn). A former child protégée she graduated high school at 13 and holds doctorate degrees in both applied math and art history. While ’13’ would usually go along with the unethical antics of House Masters is a person proud of her strong, ethically oriented personality. She is quick to turn House and the other team members in for any moral trespass. Truth is paramount for her; a quality normally admirable but in direct opposition to Houses’ usual practice of medicine. The middle portion of this season contains a strong sub plot of House’s obsession to make Masters break her moral compass. In some ways he is substituting his drugs for ruining the self image of this young woman.
The writers expanded the scripts to provide greater focus on the personal lives of the team members. Dr. Chris Taub (Peter Jacobson) is used as a counter point with relationships with his own marriage imploding due to his chronic infidelity. Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) is the Assistant department head presumably reporting to House but more a stabilizing influence to the team required by Cuddy. His relationship with ‘13’ was disrupted by her sudden departure. The other original team member, Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer), is yet another victim of a destroyed relationship after his divorce from other original team member, Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison). It should be fairly obvious that interpersonal relationships were used to drive a fairly significant portion of the season’s story arcs. At least the writers were adept enough to keep the scripts on the rational side of turning into an outright soap opera. While this is essential a season of reconfiguration the underlying focus on the medical mystery is never overlooked. The cases remain more esoteric than normally found on a medical drama and the diagnostic tool of almost killing each patient is still something most medical professions hold against the series. The bottom line here is the series dipped a little but is certain to come back in season eight stronger than ever.