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''House'': Diagnosing the doc

On ”House,” a sad savant pianist gets a brainectomy, and House fakes an illness of his own

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”House”: Diagnosing the doc

First things first. We get a sum total of five episodes for all of January, February and March? Seriously? Yeah, yeah, I know there’s nine in a row coming, but not until March 27. I mean, does Fox want people to forget all about the show now that it’s a legitimate hit? Or should we only care that the general populace can’t outwit a child unable to buy his own ticket to see Wild Hogs?

That said, this was easily the highest-quality episode of the season. Between the Dave Matthews-Hugh Laurie duet, everyone thinking House had brain cancer, and yes, a tease for all the ‘shippers (both teams!) in the audience, that was one mighty tasty serving of TV — and definitely deserving of the severe piano chord that replaced the standard opening credits.

Certainly casting Dave Matthews as a savant piano player was a coup, and he actually pulled off both the calmly naive gazing off and the manic seizing and convulsing pretty well. Given the ratcheting up of Dave’s film work — he was last seen in the well-reviewed kiddie flick Because of Winn-Dixie and just wrapped a drama with Sissy Spacek and Rebecca Romijn under the take-me-seriously name David Matthews — I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s making a slow transition to acting. So far, so good. Just as long as he stays away from any scripts with the words Moonlight and/or Valentino.

I was also pretty impressed with Kurtwood Smith, a.k.a. Topher Grace’s caustic dad on That ’70s Show, who also (carpe diem alert!) played Robert Sean Leonard’s hard-ass — and way less forgiving — dad in Dead Poets Society. It was truly poignant when he asked his son if he was happy — even if the camera zoomed immediately thereafter to a graphic shot of said son’s half-removed brain.

And of course, there was the complicated mess that was House. Clearly, something had to be up for him to be diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer; just as Meredith Grey cannot die on a show called Grey’s Anatomy, Gregory House cannot die on a show called House M.D. In the end, the doc’s pained reaction when everyone discovered his disguised cry for help was far more revelatory than the entire Tritter arc. (During the final restaurant scene, my passively watching roommate suddenly yelled out, ”Just do it, you grumpy old man!”) And the ducklings were adorable as they tried to make sense of their boss’s fake diagnosis, particularly Chase’s declaration that he was going to hug House now — and then doing so, with a tear in his eye.

House actually let his guard down, a little, with both of the women left in his life. Cuddy, whose trepidation over her best doctor’s condition was revealed by her nervous rubber-band twisting, permitted House to cop a feel (although deferring more serious action to the Make-a-Wish Foundation), while Cameron planted a kiss on him in an effort to grab a blood sample. (”Kinda whorish to kiss and stab,” said House, after the ploy was revealed. ”If you need a sperm sample, come back without the needle.”) I appreciated the ambiguity of the latter smooch; instead of force-feeding a potential relationship down our throats, the show just gave us a hint.

And finally, have I mentioned that Hugh Laurie is a god? If the awards he’s won aren’t proof enough, let’s just agree that he’s truly made this role his own. I loved that the episode ended with his hand simply hovering on the doorknob. Plus, I could watch him play the piano forever. And Luke and Laura forever!

So what did you think? Was Dave Matthews a credible guest star? Is there romance in House’s future — and if so, with whom? And just how seriously depressed is House?