Wednesday, May 30, 2007

House: A man stands alone

Spoilers for the "House" third season finale coming up just as soon as I figure out whether I have the power to fire anybody I work with...

From the people who brought you "Tell Cuddy I want Ketamine" comes a different kind of "shocking" cliffhanger: House alone after all his subordinates have either quit or been fired.

Unfortunately, the Ketamine bit -- and the entire season that followed it -- has sapped a lot of the tension from this cliffhanger, because it showed us that the "House" writers aren't interested in actual change, just the illusion of it. House's leg healed for a few episodes, and then he went right back to the same limping pill-popper he was before. Tritter came in and threatened to rip House's world apart, and after a few episodes, all was status quo. Cuddy felt betrayed by how House manipulated her at the end of the Tritter thing, but within a few weeks, their relationship was same as it ever was (same as it ever was). House's sidekicks were all horrified by him faking cancer to get high, and House in turn realized he had hit rock bottom and had to be more human with them, and the following week it was like none of that ever happened.

I really like "House." It's a lot of fun, Hugh Laurie is doing brilliant work every week, the supporting players have adjusted well to his rhythms over the years, and it's one of the few network procedural dramas where the actual cases don't feel like afterthoughts. (Most of the fall procedural pilots I've watched could learn a thing or 20 from this show.) But it's one of the most formulaic Great Dramas on television, present or past, which means there need to be periodic resets to the status quo. There can be changes on the fringes -- Cameron and Chase dating, Cuddy trying to have a baby, Foreman maturing -- but the key elements of House the socially abrasive genius and his fractured relationships with his colleagues have to remain relatively stable.

So you'll forgive me if I don't spend my summer chewing my fingernails over the prospect of Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison and Jesse Spencer leaving the show. I expect we'll come back in the fall with House working solo, or having recruited some new subordinates to bully (maybe he can bring back the trio of chatty med students from "Three Stories"), and over the course of the first half-dozen episodes, Foreman, Chase and Cameron will find themselves drawn back into House's orbit.

Now, I don't know anything about the contract details for Epps, Morrison and Spencer (though actors traditionally sign contracts that run four years or more when they agree to do a series), and for all I know Ausiello or Kristin or somebody will have a story up later today where one of the "House" producers explains that one or all of those actors are leaving. But right now, this one smells to me like another false cliffhanger, a twist to shake things up for a few episodes in the fall before everything goes right back to normal.

Which isn't to say it was a bad episode. Hugh Laurie did a great job depicting House's complete inability to diagnosis a cure for his Foreman problem, Cameron developing real feelings for Chase was sweet (if predictable), and I liked the patient and her husband's handling of House. (Though their grasp of the English language made a quantum leap from the opening scene to the end of the episode.) I'm just feeling blase about the cliffhanger stuff.

What did everybody else think? Does anybody believe the show is done with one or more of those characters?


Adam said...

Yes, the patient and her husband seemed to go from No English to Stereotypically Accented English awful quickly, and we never did find out where in the Cuban press "Dr. Casa" had been publicized. (Indeed, that was an awful lot of budget being spent on an opening scene that really had nothing to do with what the episode was about -- they could have had the family drive all night from Kentucky and had the same effect.)

I can believe Epps leaving, because he had a career before this show; not sure about the other two. But the show could use a total reboot, like Law and Order does on occasion, because there hasn't been a great episode since House's fake cancer.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your assessment. I also think part of the problem is that, while House is a bastard, it's also what makes the show great. If he suddenly becomes nice or beats his addiction or heals his leg then he's not going to be the same character we all love. We don't want him to change and neither do the writers. So constantly dangling stories about change in front of us is really growing tiresome.

K J Gillenwater said...

I'd like to think they'd bring in someone new. What has become stagnant is that his three underlings have figured House out. He is no longer someone to fear or someone to look up to as he was at the beginning of the series. Now that they understand what a messed up guy he is and how he operates, there are no surprises, no reactions, nothing new to explore.

What I would really like to see is House clean up his private life. Perhaps get it on with Cuddy and be the baby daddy. Find some peace and joy in that. But, when he brings that changed, happier self to work, find out that it doesn't work in his doctor world. So, he has to play the bad guy to get what he wants and get the answers he needs.

It would be very entertaining to seem him balance work life with home life.

I know plenty of men who are gruff, nasty bastards at work, but loving and kind at home to wife and children. It would be interesting to seem them change House somewhat and get over himself for once.

BF said...

If Epps leaves, I will be severely disapointed. Not just because I enjoy the character, but there's only one way Foreman should go: getting hit by a subway.

Anonymous said...

My (probably over-generous take) on the quickly English-speaking Cubans was that the House producers were trying (not as artfully) the "Hunt for Red October" language trick by opening in the native tongue before switching to English.

When I saw Cuddy with the med students, my first thought was that they were going to draw one or more of them into House's case, thus setting up new Housies for next season. Maybe the "B+" girl will be back.

I also thought they were going to get rid of Chase, after building up Foreman's departure, a la thirtysomething's "Gary is dead" moment and the great MASH death switcheroo. I was surprised Foreman ended up leaving, and Cameron. But it's good for the show. Let's get some fresh blood in there.

Mac said...

According to the USA Today, Epps will be back next year, though it's unclear in what role. I agree that some new blood would be a good thing for the show.

Robert David Sullivan said...

What I'd really like is to see a patient die once in a while. I watch the show for Hugh Laurie, but I hate all the guest stars because I know they'll survive and remind me how formulaic the show is. It's turning into "Monk," weighed down by a central character who's always right but incapable of change.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Several patients died this season -- including one they actively killed through House's "treat, then diagnose" methods, which is what drove Foreman to quit.

Robert David Sullivan said...

Sorry, I stand corrected, having missed that episode. I just got a sinking feeling last night when the patient's heart started beating again. Maybe it's because Cuddy was once again proven wrong after telling House to give up on the patient. That character needs a friend in the writers' room.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I think that House has changed, but in tiny increments, which is true to the character. Most people don't change 90 degrees after a flash of lighnting. They learn lessons and change behaviours reluctantly.
Wishing for a gruff-but-lovable House is wishing for the end of this show. Paging Ted McGinley.
As for everyone quitting/being fired, who knows with this show? I could see Foreman returning as a nemesis for House, Cameron comes back when things don't work out with Chase. Maybe House could get a new team with 2 girls and 1 guy (no pizza place), see how that works. Chase could also come back to the hospital in another dept.

Unknown said...

Dick Wolf wouldn't have any problem making cast changes. Fire Joe Torre!

Totally agree with the overall assessment (...though the goal of almost every dramatic series is to find and maintain its status quo). This is a great procedural show with a great central character. Revolving staff changes are there mostly to let you know what season a rerun's from.

But -- and I only caught about half of last night's show -- the most exciting scene was House polling the first-year med students. Maybe because it was fun trying to guess if any were keepers, of maybe just because it's always fun to watch him attack new people.

Woodrow L. Goode, IV said...

You're absolutely right about the false cliffhanger. In case anyone needs more evidence, House has also given us "Evil Pharmaceutical Guy Takes Over Hospital" and "Return of the Conflicted Ex-Wife". They're afraid or unwilling to change, but they don't want to admit to being "Mr. Monk gets a medical degree", either.

A year ago, Omar Epps said his contract was "run-of-show"; since Jesse Spencer and Jennifer Morrison are supposedly engaged, I can't imagine they're going anywhere.

I've got the over/under set at four shows, with Foreman being the first to return. This show likes to think it's edgy and unpredictable... but since it usually chooses the least probable outcome, it actually is rather formulaic.

I'm figuring Foreman says "I thought if I left you, I wouldn't become you. But the more I stayed away, the more I realized I was becoming you. It's being near you that keeps me from becoming you."

Then House can say "Can't live with me-- can't live without me. No matter what you say, I'm not marrying you." (I should copyright this dialogue and license it to the show.) Cameron has to come next because it's the only way to get Chase back (she's so busy, the only way he gets to bump uglies with her is to work with her).

This probably marks the point of irreparable decline for House. If people talk about a show--and they say "What's going to happen?"-- the show is living.

Once they can correctly predict where it's headed-- because they know from past experience what it will and won't do-- decay has set in.

When viewers get tired of being manipulated-- and the show keeps re-using its tricks in increasingly improbable ways-- then you get the most recent season of 24.

Since the actors still have contracts, the best way out of this would be to (a) put Foreman, Cameron and Chase in charge of the clinic (or give one the clinic, one charge of the interns and the other to the ER) and (b) as several people suggested, give House new team members (B+ girl from the cliffhanger and the guy who was arguing from "Three Patients").

I don't have any real hope this will happen, and I suspect we'll just see the remaining permutations of plot devices. One of House's parents can get sick. We haven't seen Cameron's parents, I don't think. We can have Cuddy re-hook with House or boink Wilson. I don't think network TV is ready for Foreman and Wilson becoming a couple (Wilson would need to transfer to pathology while Foreman becomes a cop). Maybe House catches Tourette's Syndrome (or chronic flatulence)?

I suspect House will be off my "must-watch" by the end of next year.

David J. Loehr said...

Formula worked pretty well for Sherlock Holmes, which is the real template for House.

I'd like to see some new blood, no pun intended, with Foreman, Chase and Cameron spreading to other parts of the hospital. There could be a grudging acceptance of their moving on and being consultable colleagues if not equals. That way, everyone's accounted for, and House has some new people to torture.

Wouldn't it be fun to see him come across a new underling who reminded House of himself at that age? What if this new person were as smart as House? Wouldn't that drive Foreman a little nuts? Or would Foreman want to intervene, to protect this new guy from becoming House (and in the process discover that he's become House himself)? And will the small changes brought about by a new guitar really take hold?

The real question is, how brave are the writers? Because goodness knows there are a lot of story possibilities out there before they even come close to shark-infested waters. They've come to a point where viewers are as interested in the characters themselves as in the mysteries, and the challenge is in how to balance the two more evenly now.

I'm afraid they'll run right back to the tried and true, but they might surprise us. If not, blame the prototype. At least they won't throw him over a waterfall...I hope...

Anonymous said...

See, I disagree about what makes a show interesting. This show could do 24 remakes a year of "Thunderball", and it would still be better than most of what's on TV. This is a very well-written, well-acted, well-produced drama. People didn't watch "Columbo" for 20 years to see if he'd rob the Armenian money train. "House", by comparison, deviates significantly and frequently from it's formula, while not destroying it. I would definitely welcome new characters, but let House be House.

David J. Loehr said...

Homer: It's true, this is one of the better shows on tv. But in almost 40 years, there have only been 69 episodes of Columbo (including the pilots and the newer movies). This week's episode of House is number 70. With Columbo, we had breathing room between films, including a 12 year break. The formula made it easy to dive into the story.

I think formula is fine when done well, like this. (Even so, my favorite episode, "Three Stories," was the first non-formula episode.) And you're right, that's what makes those episodes special, because they deviate without losing the essence of the show.

But House can be House without letting the rest of his world grow stale. He really isn't going to change, but it would be interesting to see him confronted with new people in old situations (underlings hard at work) and old people in new situations (former underlings as colleagues). Even Jessica Fletcher moved to New York after 160+ episodes or so.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but Columbo (one of the best TV shows of all time) didn't have any supporting characters or continuing storylines. If the solution is to drop any attempt at evolving characters and instead come up with more interesting patients (like the murderers on Columbo), I'm fine with that.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with Dave, that was kind of what I was trying to say. I used Columbo as an example because I thought him robbing the money train was a hilarious image. Actually, Alan, that sounds like a Ben Stiller sketch, Columbo meets The Shield.
"Oh, there's just one more thing, Mr. Armadillo..." (sizzle)

Alan Sepinwall said...

Here's what I would say: I have no problem whatsoever with the series and the characters not changing at all, or changing incrementally. What I'm getting frustrated with are all these fakeouts where the writers pretend like Everything Will Be Different From Now On, only not so much.

If they just want to keep doing Patient of the Week episodes with the occasional format-breaker like "Three Stories" or the recent airplane episode, I'm all cool with that. Hugh is great enough that, like Peter Falk in the aforementioned Columbo, I don't care that he never changes or that the cases are all the same in some way. Just quit wasting our time with these non-event events.

David J. Loehr said...

I don't care that he never changes or that the cases are all the same in some way. Just quit wasting our time with these non-event events.

Amen to that. One of these events has got to stick if they really want us to be in suspense.

Heck, my wife and I would watch Hugh reading the phone book. To himself.

Anonymous said...

I actually really have no problem with them dropping the personal storylines. In fact, the only reason I welcomed them at first is because they distracted from the very obvious formula of the show. But at its heart, the show is a procedural. It's what they do best and what they should stick to. Without a Trace used to be one of my favorite shows, but as soon as they started moving into the personal stories the show started to fall apart. If House ever attempts to build entire episodes around someone's divorce or pulls a "the patient is really Hugh Laurie in old age makeup" episode, I will be officially done.

Unknown said...

What I'm getting frustrated with are all these fakeouts where the writers pretend like Everything Will Be Different From Now On

Do you think this originates from a bored production staff that's tempted but afraid to tamper with the formula, or from FOX marketing folks who say "Give us something to say other than, 'This week on House: Another episode of House!'"

David J. Loehr said...

Do you think this originates from a bored production staff that's tempted but afraid to tamper with the formula, or from FOX marketing folks who say "Give us something to say other than, 'This week on House: Another episode of House!'"

I'm guessing FOX is the reason why they keep resetting back to the original status quo. If it ain't broke--and gets great ratings--keep doing the same thing over and over and...

Mapeel said...

At the end, the camera was on House's house number 221 for a long time. I was surprised they were hammering the Holmes connection (221B Baker Street). And it looked like there was some sort of plaque below it. Does anyone know what that was?

Anonymous said...


Isn't the problem that they have too many cast members? The truth is that they could lose Spencer, Morrison, and Epps and the show would still work -- they'd just need a rotating cast of (usually no name) support staff. Cuddy and Wilson would would have the same intermittent presence they have now. Such a structure would be much closer to the Columbo or Murder, She Wrote models that have been mentioned already, where the supporting cast is kept to one or two people, max.

But if they're going to keep the interns around, the interns have to have something to do. I thought this final stretch of episodes took a reasonable tack -- the interns have personal lives, and more specifically, sex lives. (It sounds like Jesse Spencer and Jennifer Morrison figured out this story possibility on their own, first.) This can be the source of both mildy funny and mildy serious "B" storylines -- kind of like the running storyline of Wilson's pathetic relationship instincts. This would take some pressure off of the "A" storyline and allow for a little bit more variety from week to week.

It's harder to inject variety into a medical procedural than a police procedural, I think, since the set never changes and any guest star you have has to lie in bed, partially incapacitated in one way or another. So I hope that the low key character stuff sticks, even if, like you, I believe that the big dramatic stuff in the finale will resolve itself in short order.


Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, I think House greatly transcends formulaic fare like Columbo and MSW. The examples are meant to contrast as well as compare. If purely formula shows can succeed at that level, then "formula plus" should have no problem.
Really, I don't agree with criticisms like " I don't like X type of show" because I think anything can work if it is done well. House is done very well.

Anonymous said...

I'll follow this show pretty much no matter what. Laurie is that good. I do have to say that if this non-cliffhanger leads to more job interviews by House like the ones he did when Cameron quit, then bring it on. Those were fantastic, and I bet the writers had a blast writing them.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite tired of the reset button. That said, the last few eps have been fun, especially Chase running around, trying to figure everyone out (for whatever reason). I know things still aren't going to change, though, so eventually, I'll probably go back to being bored - except of course when Wilson strolls by and says something ironically funny.

Perhaps the corrollary to Everybody Lies is Nothing Ever Changes.
And since that's true, they really need to just stop teasing us. (and when do doctors ever just tell other doctors "you're fired"? Were they jealous of NBC? (actually I asked the same question when Kerry Weaver fired Malucci. Remember Dr Dave? He went on to Joan of Arcadia where he also didn't last...)

--Pam (whose DVD recorder made it thru the ep this week, but who watched it live anyway, just in case)

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with the characters on House. What's wrong is that none of them really changes. Nobody has the guts to stand up to House. He gets what he wants: fear and adulation. The closest we ever got to any resistance from another continuing character was when Wilson filed House's cane. It was the first and only inkling that Wilson had a boiling point.

House is not so much a genius as he he is a provocateur. He enjoys his nonconformity. And apparently so do the other characters who seem to live vicariously through him. They all harbor the grudging suspicion that its his personality that is responsible for his success. Nice guys finish last?

What's needed is some permanent character development from the rest of the cast.

Anonymous said...

First of all, the Dr House series is great but I mostly think it is because of Hugh Laurie, the hilariously annoying and selfish character he plays and the unexpected storylines. The cast around him for me, are like extras, Hugh Laurie is that good.

I'd love House to have a family. It would be funny to see how different he is with his personal and professional life. Like he would be in his office, answering a call from his kid and smiling and laughing and cooing, then Chase comes in and he puts his evil look back on and barks: WHAT?

The idea of his parents getting sick is terrific as well, if he has his father's temper or his mother's sarcasm, it would be extremely funny to see Cameron, Foreman and Chase rolling there eyes at such a family.