When everyone’s favorite curmudgeonly TV doctor, Gregory House, took a wrecking ball to his medical team at the end of last season, it was more than a simple season-ending cliffhanger ploy.
When “House” returns for its fourth season (Sept. 25, 9 p.m. ET, FOX), there will be no “it was just a dream” sequence that quickly explains it all away. The “House” cleaning was legit. Dr. Eric Foreman, who quit; Dr. Robert Chase, who was fired; and Dr. Allison Cameron, who quit, are all gone. Viewers will find Dr. House alone, stubbornly refusing to assemble a new team and, not surprisingly, pretending he didn’t really need a team in the first place.
But loyal fans of the show know better. He needs Foreman, Chase and Cameron more than he knows, and so do the viewers.
Fear not. The three actors who play Foreman, Chase and Cameron are still on the payroll, which means they’re definitely still in the “House.” And fans who keep their eyes on Internet chatter already know that a new batch of actors, including Kal Penn of “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” and Olivia Wilde of “The O.C.,” are coming on to portray the doctors vying for spots on House’s new team.
While these types of dramatic casting changes and addition are usually signs of trouble (think Cousin Oliver on “The Brady Bunch”), this is all good news for “House” and its fans.
Time to shake things up
The simple fact that the show is getting a fresh start is a positive step. As popular as the show has been so far, it could fall into a fairly repetitive cycle: Big medical mystery, House sits down with the team, they say a bunch of fancy words, House makes fun of Foreman, more fancy words, House makes fun of Chase, run some tests, House makes fun of Cameron (with the requisite hint of sexual tension), more tests, the why-didn’t-we-think-of-that moment, case solved, House is a jerk but a hero.
Viewers shouldn't fear the large cast. It’s all the rage these days. “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Heroes” and other hits sport ensembles featuring no fewer than 10 characters viewers are expected to care about, and it will be nice to have some new faces to follow on “House.”
In true House fashion, the doctor begins the competition for the three open positions by assigning 30 candidates numbered marathon-runner bibs so that he doesn’t have to bother learning their names. What the new faces are willing to do for a spot on the team, and what House is seeking, opens more windows into the way TV’s most enigmatic medical mind works. That’s nothing but pure joy for fans.
Hugh Laurie is still in the ‘House’
For all the changes and all the fear that comes with them, this is still “House.” Hugh Laurie will continue to be as brilliant as ever in the title role. It’s no sign of disrespect toward Laurie or House to suggest the character needs a strong supporting cast to utilize his full potential. Fans know that House is at his best when he’s riffing on others. He knows it, too, which is why, in the season premiere, he goes so far as to call upon a hospital janitor to assist him in solving his first case on his own.
The show’s writers should have earned enough respect and trust that fans will know casting shakeups won’t change the heart of "House." What will be most interesting will be watching how Foreman, Chase and Cameron continue to weave their way into storylines despite no longer being on House’s immediate team.
So when viewers tune in to the season premiere to find House at his desk with a stack of unread resumes, they shouldn’t feel anxious or sad. They should be excited about the new roads that stack of resumes will help the show travel, and know that House’s hands are securely on the steering wheel.
House is still the man, and the characters around him — new or old — simply act as tools for his and the viewers’ amusement.
Victor Balta is a writer in Philadelphia.