House M.D. Season One Review
Not to denigrate the years of training that doctors must go through before becoming fully qualified but the role of General Practitioner must be one of the more gentle vocations for the medical graduate. Where neurosurgery and cardiovascular specialities are, I imagine, demanding roles in modern medicine and a speciality in plastic surgery requires its own special brand of training - the years spent developing a personality that is arrogant, shallow and entirely free of feelings of guilt felt by performing entirely unnecessary surgical procedures - the GP would appear to have a quiet old life. Should a diagnosis not work, the patient will either come back to complain of continuing symptoms or will have had their case passed over either to a hospital or to an undertaker. Should they return, the GP simply has to move onto the next suggested treatment from their list of possible cures in the hope that it will work where the previous one did not. And so on until the patient is cured...or dead. Either way, my own limited experience with GP's - not my current one, you understand, who, should she be reading this, is quite marvellous - suggests that much trial-and-error is involved in correctly diagnosing a condition.
This opinion, although hugely ill-informed and based only on the briefest of experiences, was reinforced by the opening episodes of House, MD, an American import that is current showing on Five and which has had its first season recently released in the US. Granted that Dr House and his team are operating at the far reaches of medical science but, even so, a pattern was established early in this season. Each week a patient with a collection of apparently unconnected symptoms is brought into the hospital in which Dr Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) works and, when an initial diagnosis fails to cover all of the symptoms exhibited by the patient, House and his team of three specialists - doctors Chase (Jesse Gordan Spencer), Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and Foreman (Omar Epps) - brainstorm and trial potential remedies before, typically, a breakthrough occurs and via an ingenious diagnosis, the patient is cured. Whilst there were exceptions - there are a number of episodes in which the patient, despite House's best efforts, does not recover - this framework allowed House, MD to quickly appeal to an audience used to innovation.
Whilst the show is quite clearly based on the successful series of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation shows - House is a more cynical Gil Grissom - in which the disease is treated in much the same way as forensic evidence, the key difference between the two, other than the obvious change in setting, is of character development and insight. Whilst CSI: New York, with the characters of Danny, Aidan and Stella, has demonstrated a greater acknowledgment of the personalities in the team, the franchise remains focused on the evidence. In the case of CSI: Miami, this isn't necessarily a bad thing as it avoids getting any closer than one really should to the creepy Horatio Caine (David Caruso), but CSI suffers as a whole by enforcing a distance between the viewers and the characters in the show.
House, MD, on the other hand, makes much of its characters and none moreso than Gregory House, an irascible perfectionist who has learned through, one suspects, bitter experience not to listen to his patients. In the case of the pilot episode, this is realised through his refusal even to meet with a kindergarten teacher who collapses at work and as the series progresses, we begin to sympathise with this view as House and his team often battle against lies and, more often, untruths to unravel a patient's symptoms and the misguided interests of their relatives. Being a glossy American show, these patients are not the bumbling fools of Casualty or Holby City who stray too close to upended lawnmowers, lit fireworks or badly prepared puffer fish - Holby City Hospital has the only recorded case of such poisoning in the UK - but sufferers of often obscure illnesses such as African Sleeping Sickness.
But if House's work reaches remarkably high standards, then his private life is a shambles - he lives alone, has a constant pain in his right leg and is addicted both to General Hospital and, as we learn in the episode Detox, the painkiller Vicodin. Similarly, his team are all damaged in some ways with Chase revealing a dislike of nuns and an indifference to his father, Cameron tells of an early marriage to a man who subsequently died of cancer whilst Foreman has a conviction from a youth spent burgling. The three specialists working for House may well be young and dashingly attractive - a story involving Cameron makes this very point late in the series - but you realise that by working for House, who is a temperamental and distant mentor at the best of times, they are in this for more than a glamourous life as a consultant. That one of them eventually turns against House brings this series a dramatic flourish that is absent from many contemporary shows. Best of all, later on in the series, House, MD reveals the close bonds between Cuddy, Wilson and House, showing why the three of them depend on one another to the extent that they do.
Before this all sounds too miserable and worthy to ever enjoy - and the references to Casualty do not make it sound promising - it should also be said that House, MD is one of the funniest dramas of recent years. As his manager at the hospital, Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), reminds him on a weekly basis, House, like all the other doctors in the hospital, must put in a sufficient amount of hours at the walk-in clinic, which, as the series opens, he has ignored to the extent that he is some six years behind. Reluctantly agreeing to work in the clinic, this actually provides some of the best comedy of recent years, often painfully so as we watch House, an expert in the sarcastic put-down, make his point to an ill-informed patient who believes that a search on Google for backache constitutes a diagnosis. There are also scenes of physical comedy - House hawking up phlegm over a surgeon to postpone an operation - as well as the respectfully antagonistic relationship that House has with Cuddy, with neither giving an inch. If House notices that Cuddy's blouse is unbuttoned to be a little too revealing, she counters with a remark that his big cane ain't too subtle either. He quotes Jagger, she comes back and finishes the lyric. It's a finely written relationship that defines this show - smarter, funnier and more interesting than you might imagine it to be.
Given that House, MD is still being broadcast on Five in the UK and is currently only approximately halfway through the series, you may wish to avoid the following section as it does contain spoilers. I will also say that if you are watching House, MD on Five, then I recommend that you skip the next section as it really is only beginning, with the episode Control, to get very good indeed and, trust me, you don't want to spoil what's coming up. To go to the next section and avoid the spoilers, click here to go to the Transfer section.
Pilot (43m49s): A young kindergarten teacher collapses in her classroom in front of her pupils and is brought into hospital. House initially takes a keen interest but refuses to see the patient, believing that she has nothing to tell him and, besides, he's busy working up the six years of clinic time that he owes the hospital after an argument with Cuddy - he quotes the famous philosopher Jagger, "You can't always get what you want", to which she replies, "But if you try sometimes, you get what you need!" After persuading Foreman to visit the kindergarten and to break into the patient's flat, House realises that he may have to talk to her, if only to persuade her that there is no dignity in dying.
Paternity (43m10s): After being struck on the head by a lacrosse stick during a game, a sixteen-year-old boy is admitted to the hospital complaining of vivid hallucinations. House listens to the patient but dismisses it as sexual abuse until he notices a twitching in the patient's leg. After considering MS, the patient goes missing but is found standing on the edge of the hospital roof believing that he is still on the lacrosse field and it needs Chase to bring him down. Meanwhile, there are patients in the clinic, including a mother who won't vaccinate her child and a litigation-happy man who's lining House up as his next victim but House won't be distracted and his diagnosis all depends on betting whether the boy's father is really his father.
Occam's Razor (44m06s): House is in the clinic and is telling his patients that not only is he there against his will but, thanks to the Vicodin, he's probably too stoned to be able to treat them properly. Needless to say, the patients would prefer to wait but Cuddy's having none of it. Back upstairs, a student is brought in after collapsing whilst having sex with his girlfriend. After telling her that young men of that age don't die of sex, House and his team begin testing for viral infections but they find that the answer may lie in a badly prepared prescription.
Maternity (43m27s): House is in the lounge designated for doctors on the maternity ward both to catch up on General Hospital - they have a better television than the one in House's office - and to get away from Cuddy. But his peace is interrupted when babies start collapsing in the ward from a mystery illness. Within hours, six babies have collapsed and House and his team must begin treating them within hours or else they will die. Unfortunately, all House has is a set of conflicting diagnoses, meaning that one or more babies will die before they can treat those that are left alive.
Damned If You Do (): It's Christmas and medical science and faith are pitted against one another when a nun is admitted to the hospital with bleeding hands. The nun believes that she is stigmatic - divine symptoms related to the suffering of Christ - but House, quite obviously, does not. As he struggles to provide a diagnosis, he has other things to be concerned about - a possible misdiagnosis complaint, Chase's apparent dislike of nuns and a Christmas that, as with all other Christmases, will be spent alone.
The Socratic Method (43m41s): When a schizophrenic is admitted to the hospital, House takes an interest in her, even to the extent of talking to her, simply because, in Chase's words, "She's not boring." Complicating his diagnosis are rumours of a drink problem and a fifteen-year-old son that is suspicious of House's treatment. House dispatches Foreman and Chase to go to the woman's apartment to look for clues whilst he uses ethanol to shrink a tumour in order to get his patient into surgery. They're still no closer to a diagnosis, however, and when social services arrive to take the son into care, House is wrongly blamed, which forces him to rethink the schizophrenia.
Fidelity (43m53s): When a woman is admitted to hospital exhausted and falling asleep mid-sentence, House suspects, after ruling out many other illnesses, that it is African Sleeping Sickness. That suggests to House, given that neither the patient nor her husband had been to Africa, that one of them has been having an affair. House suspects the husband and that he sexually transmitted the disease to his wife but he vehemently denies this, which causes House's team to question his motives - if he's lying, he will kill his wife. As House begins the treatment, House is aware that if his diagnosis is correct then he could be ruining her marriage.
Poison (43m49s): House finds that he has an admirer after treating an eighty-two-year-old woman at a clinic who suddenly finds herself with a sexual appetite again. Whilst he fends off her attentions, he investigates the collapse of a high school student, which he initially puts down to poisoning through the use of a new recreational drug. Despite the boy's mother telling Chase that her son does not use drugs, House sends Cameron and Foreman check out their house but when they believe they have found the source of the poison - a bottle of homemade tomato sauce with a popped lid. They're forced to question their diagnosis when another kid with the same symptoms is admitted but who lives 10 miles away from the first patient and who would not have eaten from the same bottle.
DNR (43m40s): When a jazz legend, John Henry Giles, collapses during a recording session, he is brought into the hospital but his own doctor, Hamilton, comes in to continue treatment for pneumonia and A.L.S. Given that Foreman once worked for Hamilton, he is asked to lead the team of Cameron and Chase but not to let House get involved. Unfortunately, House can't help himself and resuscitates Giles even after a DNR order is in place. As Giles' relatives take House to court for breaking the DNR, House launches his own legal battle to ensure that Giles can continue to be treated but with time running out, Foreman feeling upstaged by House and Hamilton coming in to take over the treatment, his patient may not be the only thing that House loses.
Histories (44m10s): House is asked to work with two medical students in the field of medical diagnostics but only convinces them of the need to never, under any circumstances, listen to the patient. Meanwhile, at a party, a homeless woman collapses and the first thought of Wilson and Foreman is of a drugs overdose. But the tox sheet is clean, which leads Foreman to suggest that the patient is faking the seizures that she had been having in order to get a bed and a few free meals in the hospital. Wilson isn't convinced and asks House to involve himself in her treatment but before he can provide a diagnosis, the patient goes missing. When the police Taser her in a park in the city and bring her in, the effects of the gun on her heart only complicate House's treatment and as Wilson and Foreman learn of the patient's history, they realise there may be little that they can do.
Detox (44m05s): When a young man is injured in a car accident whilst being driven by his girlfriend, he suffers from internal bleeding but as this continues over three weeks, Cameron brings the case to House's attention. House, though, is distracted by not getting his Vicodin and Cuddy accuses him of being an addict but when she offers him a month off clinic duty in exchange for his taking a week without Vicodin, he takes her up on the challenge. As House shows signs of withdrawal, his team become concerned that he is not of sufficiently fit mind to diagnose the patient, which is acerbated by an aggressively concerned father.
Sports Medicine (43m08s): Hank Wiggen is a major sports star who was once addicted to steroids but who now campaigns against their use. When he suffers a broken arm whilst filming an anti-drugs video, he is admitted to the hospital whereupon House states that Wiggen has been continuing to use steroids. As Wiggen continues to deny this, his kidneys show signs of failing, leaving his pregnant wife offering to donate one of hers but doing so will kill the foetus. House remains unconvinced that drugs aren't involved and whilst he continues to work on his theory in private, he keeps a number of other options open, including having Wiggen put on the transplant list. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend is coming to town and Wilson is due to meet her on the same night that House planned to go to a monster truck rally. With Wilson busy and Foreman otherwise engaged with a new drugs rep, it's between Chase and Cameron, who worries that should House ask her, it'll feel like a date.
Cursed (43m42s): When the son of a major donor to the hospital comes in with symptoms that suggest pneumonia, Cuddy puts House under pressure to quickly come up with a correct diagnosis. When the boy, who's only twelve, tells Chase that he's been cursed following a seance with an Ouija board, Chase goes to the abandoned house in which the seance was held to look for clues, finding anthrax spores that allow them to begin treatment but which House knows doesn't provide the answer. Chase's work is complicated, though, by the arrival of his father (Patrick Bauchau, Sydney in The Pretender) who has arrived from Australia for, as he says, a conference. House uncovers the truth behind his visit and tries to reconcile Chase with his father before it's too late.
At the time of writing, Five have broadcast up to this point. Therefore, should you wish to avoid spoiling the rest of the series - and, really, I recommend that you do - click here to go to the next section.
Control (44m13s): When Carly Forani (Sarah Clarke) finds that she is unable to move her leg during a business meeting, she is admitted to the hospital. Whilst his team run tests, House has a hunch and puts her forward for a heart transplant but in hiding Forani's secret, puts his own career in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the owner of a successful pharmaceuticals company donates $100m to the hospital and, in doing so, is appointed the chairman of the board. On a tour of the hospital, he notices House playing yo-yo in his office and takes a dislike to him, eventually telling Cuddy that House's department must be shut down and that House must be removed from the hospital.
Mob Rules (44m12s): House gets involved with the mafia when he receives a court order to treat a one-time gangster, Joey Arnello, who's joining the witness protection program before testifying. Joey Arnello collapsed after eating steak and entered a coma that he emerged from shortly thereafter. Whilst the court orders House to come to a diagnosis quickly, Joey's brother urges House to take his time such that Joey never testifies, never enters the program and never ends up the victim of a revenge killing. Such a deal requires a kind of delicacy that House has not shown to date. Meanwhile, Cuddy persuades Vogler to back off House and he agrees but demands that House cut costs in his department by removing one of his team.
Heavy (43m54s): House informs his team of Vogler's deal, which pits Chase and Cameron, who believe they are the most likely casualties, against one another. As Wilson debates with House who he is most likely to nominate, a morbidly obese ten-year-old girl is admitted after having a heart-attack whilst skipping at her school. As House tells his team to keep their focus on the girl, despite Vogler trying to get to know his team better, he realises how difficult their situation is and attempts to stop them recalling each other's mistakes.
Meanwhile, House and Wilson deal with a patient who has a thirty-pound tumour on her ovary but refuses to have surgery, saying that her husband loves her curves. Finally, Vogler pushes House for a decision on who is to be fired but when House nominates a member of his team, Vogler refuses meaning that House was right about who was informing Vogler behind his back.
Role Model (44m07s): The debate about AIDS affecting the public's opinion of someone comes to the hospital when a high-profile senator is admitted and, with Vogler forcing his hand, is diagnosed with the illness by House. The senator, however, refuses to admit he's lying about the two sexual partners that he's had, claiming that, unlike House, he sees the best in people, which prompts House to reconsider his diagnosis. Meanwhile, in exchange for keeping his team together, Vogler tells House that he must make a speech on behalf of his pharmaceutical company and, surprisingly, House agrees. But House delivers a speech that Vogler will never forget and nor will a member of his team, who has decided to leave.
Babies & Bathwater (44m05s): Following the speech at the pharmaceutical conference, Vogler is determined to have House fired and tells him to have his letter of resignation prepared for the next morning. As Wilson tells House that Vogler has convened an emergency board meeting to discuss his sacking, Chase and Foreman remain in care of a pregnant patient who passed out whilst driving a car. As they find out through their investigations, either the mother or her unborn child will survive but not both. Meanwhile, the board meeting goes ahead and, as the only one opposed to Vogler sacking House, Vogler fires Wilson, leaving the way open for House's contract to be terminated.
Kids (44m02s): With Cuddy having resolved the crisis in management, House asks Cameron to come back but, she tells him, simply asking her isn't enough. Meanwhile, there's an emergency at the hospital following an outbreak of meningitis to which House, Foreman and Chase are called but one twelve-year-old girl piques House's interest. Whilst she has many of the symptoms that might be associated with meningitis, there are others that don't fit the profile, leading to the stretched and reduced team, now including a re-instated Wilson, to make a diagnosis amongst the confusion.
Love Hurts (44m06s): With Cameron having returned to work following House agreeing to go on a date with her, his happiness is all too brief when it appears that he gave a patient a stroke simply by shouting at him. As the patient brings in a guru who turns out to be a dominatrix, House's attempts to reach a diagnosis become complicated.
Down in the clinic, where he continues to eat into what he owes the hospital, an aged woman comes to House to discuss her sex life after her partner in the retirement home tries Viagra and injures her vagina. Love is also on the mind of Wilson, Foreman and Chase when they hear about the reason for Cameron's return despite their betting on the outcome.
Three Stories (44m02s): For the second time that he can remember, House is being forced into giving a speech, this time to a set of medical students on the skills required to make a diagnosis. As House tells the story of three patients, all of whom came in with a sore leg, the students learn about the complexities in making a correct diagnosis and, as Chase, Cameron and Foreman arrive at the lecture theatre, they learn that House is revealing much about himself. As Wilson and Cuddy also attend, House's lecture also not only explains the close relationship that he has to them but how the arrival of Stacey, his ex-girlfriend comes at an inopportune time.
The Honeymoon (44m08s): Stacy remains in House's life to ask him to look at her husband who, despite being cleared by three other diagnosticians, remains in the hospital until House has completed all his tests. As his symptoms get worse, House fights against the knowledge that he is personally involved in this case, particularly in light of what his team learned during House's lecture.
Non-anamorphic? These days? Despite having the correct aspect ratio and a lovely presentation in an attractively assembled case, House, MD does not come with an anamorphic image. As such, it's not a bad image so long as it's framed within a 4:3 image but zoom it up onto a big screen and the flaws become apparent with a soft image and colours that are just too rich.
The only soundtrack is English Dolby Digital 5.1 and although the rear channels only get used for ambient effects, such as thunder or rainstorms, they provide a pleasing setting.
Whilst it would have been good to have had a commentary or two spread about the three-disc set, the extras that have been included are a little more than the typical press pack items.
The Concept (4m49s): Hugh Laurie, Bryan Singer and David Shore are interviewed for this feature, which briefs the viewer on the
Casting Session with Hugh Laurie (1m25s): Presented on fuzzy videotape, this features the star of House, MD reading through a scene with Dr Cuddy with an unidentified and offscreen partner.
Medical Cases (4m25s): David Foster, the medical consultant on the show, and David Shore discuss the illnesses that they have featured on the show and how they have a wealth of further cases for, hopefully, future seasons. Finally, the cast talk about their roles as doctors, who claim, rather optimistically, a certain degree of medical expertise.
Set Tour (5m38s): Jennifer Morrison and Lisa Edelstein, who play Doctors Allison Cameron and Lisa Cuddy, in the show, walk through the set and talk about the placing of scenes. Both are, quite unforgivably, accompanied by a dreadful heavy rock guitar solo as though Yngwie Malmsteen was trapped in one of the non-functioning lifts on the set.
House-isms (4m03s): Interspersed with interviews with the cast, this is a quick walk through the sarcastic comments as offered by Dr House during the run of the series.
Dr House (6m37s): Given how prominent he is in the show - it is, after all, named after him - it is only fair that this DVD release had an extra that examined the character. Featuring footage from the show as well as interviews with the cast and crew, this tries to explain the character of Dr House but, whilst offering much in terms of quantity, is lacking in quality.
Before this DVD set arrived, I was almost about to give up on House, finding that it had become routine in his gathering his team about a whiteboard to try various remedies before arriving at the correct diagnosis. Detox changed that as it began to show that House was not afraid to challenge its characters and, as I write this in the week before Control is shown, I do so knowing that the series is about to get a whole lot better. Those that avoided the spoilers in the episode guide and will continue to watch the show on Five have a real treat ahead - House, MD is about to get much better and will end as a truly wonderful show.
Whether you're impatient or you'll buy this to keep until the showing on Five has come to an end, this is recommended either way. With a mix of the science and forensics, the revealing of personal stories and the cruel humour between House and Cuddy, this is unashamedly grown-up drama and, for once, it justifies all of the praise that it garnered on its showing in the US.