Tube Talk: A different kind of House

September 16, 2009

By Paula Hendrickson

Contributing Writer

Fans of House will recall seeing our favorite anti-hero, Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), checking himself into a psychiatric hospital at the end of last season. Surely you didn’t expect him back at work at the start of this season. The two-hour season premiere will find House on the opposite side of the medical chart, this time as a psychiatric patient.

Removing House from his enabler-filled comfort zone at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital and tossing him into a psych ward snake pit should make for some gripping drama. (Don’t tell me you hadn’t noticed this summer’s “snakes on a cane” ads. The slogan, attributed to Hugh Laurie, uses snakes and House’s infamous cane to create a caduceus—the ancient symbol of physicians—but it also alludes to the allegorical snake pit, made famous in the classic film, The Snake Pit, starring Olivia de Havilland as a young woman who finds herself in an insane asylum.)

Having seen almost every episode of House, I have to admit the formula wears on me. Patient with a mystery illness draws House’s attention. He and his staff do a differential diagnosis, argue about which diseases might fit the symptoms, rule some illnesses and start testing for the others. Along the way, someone nearly kills said patient (it’s OK, though, since it usually leads to more clues to help diagnose the underlying ailment). There’s usually a seizure of some sort, often during an MRI, but sometimes during a more invasive procedure. Eventually, House puts the pieces together, and nine times out of 10, they save the patient.

My favorite episodes are the ones that break the mold. One told the same story from different perspectives. A couple even had House as a patient. Perhaps the best episode last season had House and Wilson making a road trip down memory lane to House’s father’s funeral. Let’s just say it didn’t go well for Wilson or House, which made it so much fun to watch.

Laurie is an amazing actor, and that alone is reason enough to watch House each week. I’m still astounded at how few people here in the U.S. are familiar with Laurie’s British pre-House work like Jeeves & Wooster, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Blackadder. The guy is a comic genius, but give him some serious dramatic material, and his brilliance will astound you.

If there’s one drawback to House (other than masking Laurie’s delightful British accent), it’s that the structure of the show doesn’t always allow time for a lot of big, dramatic scenes. That’s why knowing the new season will stick House in a new environment and confronting his inner demons has me reeling with delight. My joy is topped only by the fact that the equally brilliant Andre Braugher (Homicide’s iconic “Det. Frank Pembleton”) is playing House’s psychiatrist.

Laurie is again nominated for an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Even if he doesn’t take home an Emmy when the awards are given Sunday, Sept. 20, this new storyline should make him a hands-down favorite next year.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the September 16-22, 2009 issue

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