When Hugh Laurie took a recent, brief, unexpected trip back to England, he cited ”family obligations,” though I assumed it was because he needed a very long and deserved nap. The character of Dr. Gregory House — originally conceived as a medical version of Sherlock Holmes, solving dire problems with eccentric intuition — is in nearly every scene of Fox’s medical whatdunit. And that premise seems to be getting weary for the show’s writers, too. (At least when they’re not striking.) Even Arthur Conan Doyle tried killing off Holmes when he thought the sleuth had overstayed his welcome, and House has already presented more cases than Holmes ever tackled.
While certainly not wishing for House-icide, I went into this fourth season a little sick of how the misanthropic diagnoses were becoming blurrily familiar. And this season’s gimmick — having House winnow down applicants to replace last season’s exodus of doctors Foreman (Omar Epps), Chase (Jesse Spencer), and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) — guaranteed uneven episodes. The whole process strains credulity even for House; did anyone out there expect sitting ducks like the bland blond twins to last? TV-savvy viewers — i.e., everyone reading this — have guessed that House will fire all but the most familiar faces. From the beginning, my bets have been on Kutner (Harold & Kumar‘s Kal Penn, who has signed on as a series regular) and ”Thirteen” (The O.C.’s Olivia Wilde), along with dark-horse candidate Amber (Anne Dudek), ”the cutthroat bitch.” (Gilmore Girls fans know this role really should have gone to that cutthroat nonpareil, Rory’s old pal Paris Geller, a.k.a. Liza Weil.)
But I said the series was ”uneven”: While some episodes have been tedious (for me, almost everything involving sulky Foreman is a drag), others rank among House‘s finest. Take, for example, the Nov. 6 edition (see the EW.com TV Watch recap, which found House removed from his house of hospital pain and whisked off to CIA HQ. There he met his patient, a damaged agent, and a dazzling Company doctor, played by Homicide‘s Michael Michele. The locale shift yielded lots of good spy jokes between House and his colleagues Dr. Wilson (the always exemplary Robert Sean Leonard) and hospital administrator Cuddy (the sly Lisa Edelstein), as well as a bracingly poor-taste punchline about waterboarding and a kicky one about ”Cuddy’s vagina” (jolly good of House not to resort to the already-lame ”vajayjay”).
That episode threw two things into sharp relief: House benefits more these days whenever House lectures, hectors, and whines less; and keeping the teetering medical detective on the move and off balance makes the grumpy guy all the more insightfully insufferable. B-