House, M.D.: Season One
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House, M.D.: Season One

Most television doctors are loveable, full of the milk of human kindness. With a lineage that includes such beloved healers as Marcus Welby, Doctor Kildare and even Doctor Quinn, American audiences have come to expect their doctors to be humane. Well, toss that notion out the window and meet the latest man of medicine on the tube, Doctor Gregory House (Hugh Laurie). To say he is acerbic is overly generous. The man makes being a curmudgeon into an art form. House is brutally honest, to the point of insult all that come within range of his verbal barbs. He is also the world’s leading authority on infectious disease and one of the best diagnostician in any hospital. For once the writers of a television series came up with a complex character with Gregory House. He refuses to wear a lab coat in order to avoid anyone mistaking him for a doctor and seeking his help. He gobbles pain killers in virtually every scene, a necessity because of an infarction of the thigh muscle that left him in constant, extreme pain and the need of a cane to get around. While he hates to deal with people he is infatuated with soap operas (General Hospital is a favorite), shows like the O.C. and gossip magazines. House is generally at constant odds with the hospital administrator Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein). All Dr. Cuddy wants is for House to fulfill his obligations as a member of the staff and actually see patients in the clinic, something he has overlooked for the last six years or so. Cuddy is not above ending an argument with House by walking up stairs, something his disability will not permit.

House has surrounded himself with the brightest young doctors available. Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) pulled himself out of poverty to become an excellent physician. His specialty is as a neurologist and his knack of finding environmental causes for the disease at hand. He also is able to think out of the box, something House appreciates a lot. House hired him partially because he was arrested back when he was sixteen; house wanted a man with street smarts to go with the usual medical school training. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) is as beautiful as she is bright. When she asks House why she hired her he bluntly replies because she is beautiful. She immediately thinks sexual harassment but House continues to explain that beautiful young women like her could marry rich or become a model, any one of a hundred easy ways through life but she choose the difficult path of medical school, she was hired for her determination. She fills the slot as immunologist under House. Finally, there is Jesse Spencer as Dr. Robert Chase, he was hired because of a few phone calls his father made but his personality and ability to talk with the patients off sets House’s complete lack of bedside manner. Chase is the intensivist of the group. House’s only friend is Doctor Jim Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) who is not only able to put up with House but their discussions frequently provide insight into the strange mind of House.

This is not the kind of series that requires time to grow on you. I was immediately drawn into the plot and the interaction of the characters. While it borrows from such shows as CSI, Quincy and E.R. it is original in its approach to television drama. There is the now required CGI trip up noses and down throats but this is just spice for the inventive story lines. There is a touch of mystery with each week’s disease, House and his team diagnosis what they think is wrong, treat it, see that doesn’t work and uses the information to refine or redirect their course of treatment. This in itself is a refreshing change from the usual docs on television that immediately know what is wrong and proceed to cure the patient. The series demonstrates that medicine is often trial and error performed by fallible human beings. House’s mantra is people lie, disease doesn’t. His distain for his fellow man borders on the pathological, something that is explored slowly as the first season moves along.

The cast here is a cut above what we normally see on television. After the recent years of ‘reality’ television is reassuring to know that the studios have not fired all the talented casting directors around. Hugh Laurie makes the role of the sullen Doctor House into a fully developed character. There is as much mystery to the doctor as there is in discovering the disease of the week, little touches like his unshaven, craggy face, dark clothing and cane results in an immediately memorable character. Laurie does well playing the contrast between a doctor that hates people but is intrigued by pop culture in the form of television and gossip rags. Lisa Edelstein does a good job as Dr. Cuddy, House’s administrative adversary but there is little chance of real conflict, House usually gets most of his own way. What was needed and was provided by the producers was a more serious threat to House. This came in the form of Edward Vogler played by the brilliant character actor Chi McBride. He is the corporate minded billionaire who takes over as the chairman of the board with an instant dislike of House. Whether McBride plays a bus station janitor or the principal of an inner city school he always gives a great performance. Omar Epps is a young actor of considerable talent that brings a lot to the mix here. He portrays Doctor Foreman as a young man who may not understand his boss but he respects his medical gifts. Jennifer Morrison also displays talent as the young woman who has decided to use her brain and not her looks to get by. In all the cast works well with each other showing great chemistry.

This series is the creation of Bryan Singer and David Shore. Singer, hot after his success with the X-Men films has vision in the medium of television as well. Shore has been involved with such quality television as Law & Order and the new Outer Limits. Together they have come up with a real hit here. The special effects are never the center of attention that is left to the intelligent scripts and fine acting. This is a series that combines drama and mystery in a fashion rarely seen on TV.

Universal has done well with bringing this worthwhile series to DVD. Oddly, the 1.78:1 video is non-anamorphic. Still, the look of this box set is clean with a bright color palette and absolutely no sign of any defect or flaw. The audio is provided in Dolby 5.1. While it is generally very full and rich although somewhat centered in the front, the rear speakers and sub woofer provides a realistic, robust ambience throughout. The musical cues are well presented adding a lot to the show. The extras are lighter than I would have liked. There is a featurette describing the medical basis of some of the cases presented, one on the series’ concept, the casting tape of Laurie and a look at the character of Gregory House. If you are tired of the mindless drivel on most television channels pick this up and enjoy a series that returns to quality.

Posted 9/2/05

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