Wednesday, October 22, 2008

House & Fringe: The personal vs. the professional

Thematically-linked spoilers for last night's episodes of "House" and "Fringe" coming up just as soon as I puff on my inhaler and enjoy some onion soup...

"House" and "Fringe" are far, far from the first TV shows to make their procedural storylines have some kind of thematic parallel to the personal lives of the regular characters. "Grey's Anatomy" does it four or five times a week, "ER" perfected the art of the sledgehammer parallel well before that, and even more high-falutin' dramas like "Mad Men" are fond of mixing its characters work and home lives. (Don Draper's ad campaigns are usually inspired on whatever problem he's dealing with at home, after all.)

But there's an elegant way to do it (again, see "Mad Men") and then there's the clumsiness that's infused so much of this season of "House." I don't miss the old team, exactly (though the Foreman/Chase scene reminded me that I did rather like Chase back when he got to say more than two lines an episode), but I do miss the days when the writers would try to make the patient of the week's story interesting in its own right, as opposed to an excuse for House or one of his associates to learn a valuable lesson about their own lives.

As I've said before, I think the writers find Thirteen to be vastly more interesting than she actually is, and I say this as someone who thinks Olivia Wilde is reasonably talented. I even liked a lot of her work in this episode, particularly the moments where Thirteen opened up a little with her patient/girlfriend and we got to see a human being instead of this not-so-fascinating thematic plot device. I'd even go so far as to say that "Lucky Thirteen" was one of the stronger episodes this season, and not for the promo-tastic girl-on-girl action.

I'm just tired of the doctors and the patients having the exact same problem, week after week. That's not what I watch "House" for, and I hope the writers eventually remember that.

(On an unrelated note, this is, as far as I know, Michael Weston's final episode. Ausiello said the spin-off's no longer happening, and if that's true, maybe Lucas can pop up again from time to time. He turned out to be far more entertaining than I expected.)

"Fringe," meanwhile, tried to address the gaping charisma vacuum that is its lead actress by making this week's case an excuse for Olivia to deal with some (step)father issues. (Why is Tony Soprano the only character on television who's allowed to be mad at his mother instead of his father? Is there some correlation between poor paternal relations and screenwriting careers?)

There were ways in which "The Cure" was better than many "Fringe" episodes to date. It was the first one, I think, where the case had absolutely zero link to Walter's old research, and possibly to the Pattern, and those repeated links were getting old. Several scenes were genuinely disturbing -- notably the mouse crawling all over the strapped-down kidnap victim before exploding, and then Olivia trying desperately to get her to inject the antidote into her neck before the head on top of it went boom -- though another one (the doctor shooting himself) didn't really work in retrospect. (Unless there's a lot more to come from Chris Eigeman, the doc didn't seem in danger of a fate worse than death that would merit suicide as the only alternative.)

And, yes, we need to on some level be invested in Olivia if we're going to care about the show. We've learned a fair amount about Walter and Peter's backstory already, so it seems only fair to do it with the other lead. I just continue to find both Olivia and Anna Torv to be flat and uncompelling, with or without the revelation about her past.

What did everybody else think?

25 comments:

Kristin said...

I liked "fringe" this week. My favorite part about this show will always be the opening scene. What gross out thing is going to happen next? I love it!

I also was glad the 'cure' did not revolve around Walter's former experiments. The thought process from problem to solution seemed more realistic.

Like the peek into Olivia's past. But it was a little strange that we haven't had a hint yet about her background or why she is the way she is. But I did like that she found the letter under the door...as that creeped me out.

I liked that Peter is starting to care about her feelings and her life. They need to have more of a connection in order for this show to work better.

Wondering why special favor Peter will have to do for the evil business woman (I forget her name, Blair Brown's character). I like that he kept that a secret...it will come to bite him in the butt, I'm sure.

Bobman said...

Wondering why special favor Peter will have to do for the evil business woman (I forget her name, Blair Brown's character). I like that he kept that a secret...it will come to bite him in the butt, I'm sure.

I thought she told him she wanted to know the whereabouts of some secretive tribe who happened to inhabit an area that had some superconductive material or something.


Anyway, I agree that this was probably one of Fringe's best, just because it didn't follow the usual pattern (or Pattern for that matter). Seeing Pacey and Walter have to actually do some work to solve something was refreshing.

Anonymous said...

That's a shame about Weston's Rockford-esque PI spinoff going poof. I really liked the character and, of course, I'm a huge fan of the Rockford Files. Not from its original run but the late night WGN marathons once upon a time. It's high time someone tried a contemporary reworking of that show.

Bix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bix said...

As far as Thirteen goes, she doesn't bug me as much as she seems to bug everyone else even though I agree that the writers find her more interesting than she really is. Still, I thought last night was easily the best piece of her character's arc so far and I spent much of the episode after her firing thinking "So that's why the actors portraying the new team aren't in the opening credits." To me, it worked to show a character that, when we didn't see her away from work seemed relative to her health situation pretty together, was now self destructing after finding out that she had less time left than she figured. Though bonding with the dying one night stand/patient/new girlfriend was kind of Cameron-ish even if the reasoning was different, the ending where she abandoned her to resume self-destructing because she didn't have someone with her who related to her hit the right notes.

Kristin said...

bobman,

Hm, she did mention that tribe, but I also thought she asked him for a surprise favor later on down the road for which she expected him to instantly comply, no questions asked.

Faulty short-term memory, I guess!

Namaste said...

I haven't seen "Fringe" yet. When it comes to "House," I'll agree that they could practice more subtlety in linking the patient and the doctors, though I think they did an overall good job with Thirteen this time.

I think the main problem with Thirteen is less about this episode and more in the fact that they stumbled when introducing her in trying to force the "mystery" aspect too hard for too long. If she'd used her name from the start, if she hadn't been outright drawing attention to the mystery all along, then the Huntington's reveal would have had more impact. As such, they're now playing catch-up and trying to recoup some of the frustration with her character from those first appearances. I did feel for her in this episode. It was the same poor introduction of "the crush" that doomed Cameron for me, and it took most of three seasons until I stopped disliking her on sight.

RTVW said...

I thought she told him she wanted to know the whereabouts of some secretive tribe who happened to inhabit an area that had some superconductive material or something.

No, she brought up the tribe and his connection with them as an example of how his skills and knowledge and connections could be of use to her and Massive Dynamics. Kristin is right that she merely extracted the promise of Peter helping her in the future, with no questions asked.

mjryan said...

I've been defending Anna Torv and her performance since the beginning, willing to give her time to grow into the role. It's ironic, then, that the episode that finally gave her a chance to grow as a character (and performer), was the episode that ended my free pass. Instead of being on edge and testy, she came across as petulant. I didn't buy her heart to heart with Pacey for a minute. She didn't sell it and I really wanted her to. I did enjoy the scene between her and Joshua Jackson at the end, more his part than hers. At least they're trying to spark some chemistry between these two. Pacey is trying I just don't know if Torv has it in her.

This episode felt fresher because it had nothing to do with the Pattern, that we know of, and had nothing to do with Noble's previous work. I think, though, that they need to narrow Noble's scope. Yes, he's brilliant but it seems that they're lumping all science together by making him master of everything. For once, I'd like for Noble to say, "I don't really know; that's not my field."

dez said...

From the previews, I thought Thirteen's story was going to be a Cameron redux, and spent more time being relieved that wasn't the case than actually enjoying the ep (save the House/Wilson/Cuddy stuff). I was pretty happy when House fired Thirteen and even more so when it looked like the firing would stick, and then...drat.

Anonymous said...

What's with the hypocrisy of House (the addict) & Cuddy (the enabler) getting on their high horses about drug use? Thirteen showed up late for differential, but House's legal issues (getting Wilson to lie for him) certainly had an impact on the hosptial & patient care too.

Mr. Peel said...

I mentioned to a friend that the Michael Weston spinoff wasn't happening and he said it was probably because he was a little too much Richie Brockelman and not enough Jim Rockford. I laughed, but the reference might be a little obscure for most people. I wonder what the story behind all this is. I wonder if the new plot devlopment means Cuddy will be in more than one scene an episode like she's been lately.

dez said...

^Hee hee, Richie Brockelman :-) And you may well be right about that.

Oaktown Girl said...

Great. I give up on Fringe after last week, and now you tell me this was one of the better episodes. Oh well. I can't claim to be all that upset.

(Why is Tony Soprano the only character on television who's allowed to be mad at his mother instead of his father? Is there some correlation between poor paternal relations and screenwriting careers?)

I've really fallen in love with a British show running on PBS over here called Doc Martin. The writing is wonderful, the humor is sharp, the characters have depth, and so far, with only one exception, the surprises are always truly surprising, never telegraphed. Anyway, this week we met Doctor Martin's parents. I won't give anything away for those who haven't seen it, but that's television family dysfunction done right: intelligent, realistic, and still surprising.

Pamela Jaye said...

hmm.. the comment box changed

Pamela Jaye said...

not necessarily for the better.
So I watched House last night and then somehow ended up talking to my best friend who watches exactly one hour of primetime per week, and had to explain why I didn't watch Chuck. Gotta remember that next time.

I'm not sure I have anything to add re: Thirteen - I guess at least she's not predictable.
I do continue to enjoy seeing Chase now - where I didn't when he was always there and House's underling. Perhaps I like him better autonomous.

Mon-sewer Paul Regret said...

As I type this, my wife is watching the latest episode of Fringe. I'm typing this. I can't bear the character of Walter ... not sure if it's how it's written, how it's played, or both, but it's become a deal-breaker. I give up.

Run Yeti Run said...

My Tivo clipped the last couple minutes of House... would it be possible for someone to briefly sketch how that House/Wilson/Cuddy scene ended?

Mark B said...

Wilson telling House he was with a "prostitute who wants to go to law school" when he was actually with Cuddy is an apparent reference to Lisa Edelstein's character on West Wing.

I'm figuring that's deliberate, as in a previous episode, House said about Cuddy that "she has a penis," referring to her character on Ally McBeal.

(But I don't recall any references to "Bobbi Bernstein.")

amasea said...

Why is Tony Soprano the only character on television who's allowed to be mad at his mother instead of his father?
What about In Plain Sight, Alan?
Did we learn anything about Mary's dad, except he was a boozer who left her mom? She seems to have a lot more issues with Jinx than with her dad.

Joan said...

I really expected Foreman, reacting to Chase's characterization of him as boring, to sweep Thirteen into his arms and give her a huge kiss, he was looking at her so intently. Or maybe he would just ask her out for a drink, or offer to be more than just a co-worker, or something.

Instead, just Foreman, looking intent, saying nothing. Wasted opportunity. And I say this as someone who detests inter-group romance (the whole Cameron/Chase thing was ridiculous), but I really want to see Foreman loosen up a little, and I really wanted to see Thirteen find some comfort.

I'll miss that little PI, but I loved the House/Wilson/Cuddy interactions this week, especially, "If you're happy, I'm..."

Joan said...

OK, this new comment posting format is horrible -- three different steps, if you use preview? What genius thought up this masterpiece?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Blogger did it without checking with me first. Sorry.

amasea said...

What's with the hypocrisy of House (the addict) & Cuddy (the enabler) getting on their high horses about drug use? Thirteen showed up late for differential, but House's legal issues (getting Wilson to lie for him) certainly had an impact on the hosptial & patient care too.

I'm guessing because the drugs House is using are legal, despite his questionable explanations for them. There was serious implication that the drugs 13 was using were not. Other than the wine, which most people don't refer to as a "drug" in general conversation, and unless 13 was actually drunk when she showed up at work wouldn't have anything to do with her employment status.

electricia said...

I never watched Bionic Woman, so I can't really make a comparison, but I think during this episode I figured out why Torv is so flat and uncharismatic. She speaks much more breathily and softly than she does in the promos I've seen where she's got her Aussie accent, and I think that the problem is that she can't maintain the American accent and use any kind of volume or emote in any way. During the scene where she's yelling at Claire to take the syringe and inject herself, she had to really yell, and I did a double take because she sounded Australian during that scene. I even went back and watched again to see if I was hearing things. No doubt, the American accent had fallen away. So that's my theory on why she's so uncharismatic.