Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Updated House Diagnosis – Predictable, Forced, Flat

Back in November 2007, I wrote in this blog (here) that I had some concerns about Fox’s show, “House”. Several episodes and a writer’s strike later, I still have similar concerns.

After watching last night’s episode “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, I found that despite a reallocation of the old cast and addition of some new players, the show still falls into a predictable pattern: the patient of the week falls ill, gets to Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (PPTH), and House (Hugh Laurie) and his team get involved. They can never diagnose the illness immediately, despite the fact that House is supposed to be one of the best diagnosticians in his field. House and his new team do the same as the old team – they try various tests, treatments and diagnoses until, toward the end, someone has an epiphany and comes up with the real cause of the illness. Interspersed in this is interaction with Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Also part of the pattern is House’s manipulating and playing games with his staff and his friends.

This particular episode was really no different. There was mention of a nurses’ strike, but with the exception of a slightly backed up ER and one situation where the patient of the week needed help, you’d never know there was any strike going on. This was a missed opportunity for the show to do something different, but they didn’t capitalize on it. Maybe it was supposed to be some kind of left-handed reference to the writers’ strike, but still it really was a story element that could have been dropped and it wouldn’t have mattered.

This episode also focused on Wilson’s relationship with Amber (Anne Dudek ) and its affect on House. Frankly, I found the whole scenario forced and staged. I never felt at one point that there was anything more to this relationship than the chance for the writers to force a twist with the House/Wilson friendship. In fact, I think during each encounter with House, Wilson, and Amber, it was as if I could actually see the writer putting the dialog together. To me, good writing is when the writers seem transparent and the dialog seems natural. It reminded me of how the series “The West Wing” felt after Aaron Sorkin left when writers tried to recapture Sorkin’s style - they never could. The writing for "House" is witty and funny, but it increasingly is becoming more predictable, phonier, and much less real.

The new cast members are also lacking somewhat. The doctor named “Thirteen” (Olivia Wilde) is as wooden as a dead tree. My opinion is they hired her for a certain look, but didn’t seem to care that she can’t act. She seems like she is reading lines at best. The other two new docs, Taub (Peter Jacobson) and Kutner (Kal Penn) are somewhat better, but in this episode, Taub seems to be falling into a too-predictable character pattern. Kutner seems to actually show some interesting promise, and frankly he was one character that initially I did not think would fit very well. These new doctors also do what House’s old staff used to do – guess at possible diagnoses. The problem is that House’s old staff seemed to be a little more focused and more convincing in their guesses.

House’s old team to some extent has become window dressing. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and Chase (Jesse Spencer) make appearances that don’t really contribute much to the story at hand, only serve as a vehicle for Chase to ask Cameron if she ever slept with House. At this point, who cares? The only one of House’s old team who seems to still have a prominent role is Foreman (Omar Epps). I think that Foreman has maintained a strong character, despite the fact that he still doesn’t seem to be able to stand up to House. I continued to be disappointed in Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) who seems to be there for House to make juvenile, sexist references. Cuddy seems more ineffective than ever, being relegated to resolving a silly custody dispute between House and Amber of the hapless Wilson, who seems clearly dominated by Amber. This whole House/Wilson relationship is starting to feel staged and, well, strange.

I thought the whole testing of a vial of House’s blood was also completely off base, not to mention the outcome predictable. When they got the results of House’s test, I knew immediately it was probably not House's blood or a ruse created by House.

While I watch “House” regularly and will continue to do so, it is quickly falling off my list of favorite or “must see” shows. Why? The whole edginess is gone. Wilson has become a weakling who is unable to manage his relationships. House’s team seem to be going through the same motions as the old team, this time without the passion, the intensity, or the chemistry of the old team. Cuddy has been relegated to being a vehicle for sexual innuendo. House’s old team is wasted on worthless scenes. And I don’t seem to care at all for the patients.

My prescription? The writers need to stop catering to House fan forums and "shippers," and give the viewers scenarios and dialog that focuses more on realism, and less on bringing the funny. They need to bring back the drama and drop back on the witty repartee. They need to look back at the first two seasons and try to bring back some of House’s inner angst – but without the drugs. They need to worry less about making me laugh and work on making me THINK.

And that’s my revised diagnosis.

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