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‘House’ sets shaky foundation for new season

Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker says Monday night’s two-hour season premiere was one long slog — a tedious, obvious drag.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

First, let me say I admire Hugh Laurie immensely. From "House" on back to "Blackadder," the guy is first-rate, smart, and funny. I would have been happy if he’d won an Emmy on Sunday. And in general, I like "House." I thought it took guts to shake up the show and introduce so many new characters in 2007, and the producers have made the cranky-but-wise-doctor concept remain fresh longer than I’d have imagined possible.

Now, all that said: I thought Monday night’s two-hour "House" season premiere was one long slog — a tedious, obvious drag. Putting House in a psychiatric hospital and showing the various stages of his struggles with pain and addiction was an interesting notion. But most of the premiere was spent establishing that no matter where you plop down House, he’ll always end up the smartest guy in the room. It wasn’t much fun, the way it often is with the impish side of Hugh Laurie, to see him quickly diagnose the symptoms and the stress-points of his asylum-mates. In recent years, this vaunted ability of House’s has become all-too-familiar, and in this case, it was too easy.

But, of course, you say, that was part of the point. Like any addict new to recovery, House thinks he’s above it all until he learns for himself that he’s no better than anyone else, including his rapping roommate, a fellow who thinks he’s a superhero, and a woman who hasn’t spoken in a long time. It requires a doctor equal to House to help him reach this realization. That doctor was played by the mighty Andre Braugher, using about 20 percent of his huge talent to play the head of Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital.

For two hours, House played cat-and-mouse mind-games with Braugher’s character and other authority figures. He also had a sincere flirtation with guest star Franka Potente. (Women are always drawn to House, even when he’s looking most drawn.) Fans of "House" got plenty of scenes in which the hero triumphs amusingly over his captors, because that’s what the audience comes to "House" to see. But then viewers were asked to watch Gregory House weaken just enough to admit that his problem is greater than he is, that he is, as the title of the episode had it, "Broken."

It’s a nice, change-of-pace way to begin the season, but, as I said it was too long (even if you enjoyed the episode, wouldn’t you admit that the talent-show thing toward the end went on forever?) and left me less moved than wondering: How long is House’s new attitude going to last? Once he gets back to his old stomping/limping grounds, how many weeks before he’s the same delightfully arrogant cuss viewers adore?

You might say that "Broken" worked if it got me thinking about the character’s development in this way. But prompting an audience to think like the producers — i.e., how can we change House just a little to make things intriguing, but not so radically that we alienate our audience — just pulled me further out of the episode. (One more such thought: I’ll bet this is the episode "House" submits to the Emmys for Laurie next year, and I’ll bet he’ll win an overdue-award for it.)