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Don’t hit nurse call button just yet on ‘House’

At one point during last week’s episode of “House,” the titular doc who is trying out a batch of new doctors to develop a new diagnostic team turned to his boss, Dr. Cuddy, and said, “I really think there are no bad choices in this group.”Many fans of the show might disagree.Four episodes into the grand “House” project, in which Dr. Gregory House ditched his entire team at the end of
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

At one point during last week’s episode of “House,” the titular doc who is trying out a batch of new doctors to develop a new diagnostic team turned to his boss, Dr. Cuddy, and said, “I really think there are no bad choices in this group.”

Many fans of the show might disagree.

Four episodes into the grand “House” project, in which Dr. Gregory House ditched his entire team at the end of last season and took a crop of newbies this season from which he’ll whittle a new trio, the fan reaction is not entirely in favor of the makeover.

A quick primer: Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps) decided toward the end of last season to quit House’s team for fear of becoming too much like the insensitive diagnostician. House then fired Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer), and Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) completed the dismantling by turning in her resignation.

The moves left an air of anticipation for the new season as “House” devotees wondered whether the old team would come back, how that would work, and what it might be like to watch House work with a new group. But after four episodes, many fans are already tired of the questions and want their good, old-fashioned procedural back.

“I do not want House to have a ‘new team,’ Patti wrote on an msnbc.com message board. “The only reason I continue watching is that I keep hoping and thinking, the ‘real’ team will get back together.”

The cries of foul aren’t universal, though, as indicated by a post from Izzy entitled “Stuck in the past.”

“I can’t believe these posts! The formula was getting stale, real stale,” Izzy wrote. “If you want the same old thing, buy the DVDs and watch them over again.”

Good point!

Not ‘jumping the shark’

It’s difficult to fault a show for taking a chance and mixing things up a bit. Using the same basic pattern week after week, with Foreman, Chase and Cameron becoming predictable pawns in House’s weekly games, the show ran a considerable risk of losing fans from boredom. The changes are still worthwhile, and the show is nowhere near “jumping the shark” as a result of the moves. If the ratings are any indication, nothing has changed. “House” had its biggest premiere ever this season, and last week’s Nielsen ratings matched the opening week.

Still, it’s fair to criticize the process that has been the focal point of this season’s first four episodes, and to blame the writers a bit for failing to more quickly resolve the lingering question of what role the “old team” will have in this new-look “House.”

Dr. Foreman’s return to Princeton-Plainsboro gets all three members of the old team back under the same roof. (In case you missed it, Chase and Cameron are working in the hospital again. They just don’t get a lot of airtime). Foreman, it turns out, left too late to avoid becoming too much like his ethically challenged mentor. He got fired from his new job after taking a House-like risk to save a patient. His new boss didn’t care for his willingness to ditch protocol, canned him, and effectively blackballed him. Foreman came crawling back and will rejoin House’s team, under Cuddy’s orders. House will learn about Foreman’s hiring this week. The move is the first of three steps needed to get back on track — in the opinion of many fans — and it should provide for some deep-seeded drama between the two.

But the show can’t truly move forward until the situation with the new team is resolved, and until fans have a reason to invest in any of the newcomers. And that’s the void that has yet to be filled.

Tough to know characters

House’s process, initially starting with 30 candidates from which he’d pick his final three, has been too scattered and hasn’t allowed for opportunities to get to know many of the standouts. “Thirteen” (Olivia Wilde), whose mistake cost a patient and his dog their lives two episodes ago, looks like one clear-cut choice to make the team, and Amber, the cutthroat blonde who seems intent on working the system any way she can, are the only two candidates who have distinguished themselves. And most fans don’t appear to be very enamored with Amber.

Cole, the black, Mormon doctor, became a mild fan favorite of sorts when he punched House in the face after getting fed up with House’s antics. And Henry, the older man who isn’t really a doctor, had been one of the few newbies to curry any sort of favor with fans, and now he’s apparently gone.

Eventually, House will pick his new trio and things will begin to settle down. Foreman’s arrival will help that process. But the final question that remains to be answered is how Chase and Cameron will continue to weave their way into House’s life beyond simply passing each other in the hallways. The writers have truly worked themselves into a jam. They’ve created characters that viewers care about, but who aren’t actually strong enough to carry their own storylines. The show wouldn’t continue to be “House” if viewers were suddenly whisked away to another part of the hospital to see which case Chase or Cameron is working on. Those characters only work when they are a part of House’s sphere.

It’s far too soon to give up hope, although some fans are already anticipating doomsday.

“The old team was much better,” wrote Jolene on the msnbc.com message boards. “The current episodes are lame, and if the writing doesn't improve quickly, I will be watching something else.”

Patience may be running out for some, but it isn’t yet time to hit the nurse call button. Decisions on a hit drama with upwards of 18 million viewers each week aren’t taken lightly, so fans should trust that the writers know what they’re doing. Three seasons of dynamic writing and superb character development should have earned them a little more tolerance from the “House” faithful than four episodes’ worth.

Victor Balta is a writer in Philadelphia.