NPR logo After Seven Years, 'House' Keeps Treading Water, But Does It Very Well


After Seven Years, 'House' Keeps Treading Water, But Does It Very Well

House hits bottom, again, on tonight's eighth-season opener of Fox's House, M.D.

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Ray Mickshaw/Fox

House hits bottom, again, on tonight's eighth-season opener of Fox's House, M.D.

Ray Mickshaw/Fox

Tonight's season premiere of House, M.D., which finds Dr. Gregory House in prison after crashing his car into Cuddy's house, focuses on a few key questions: How will House deal with hitting bottom? How will he respond to a whole new group of people? How will he manage authority figures outside the hospital? What happens when you deprive him — at least temporarily — of his pills? Can he change? Can he grow? What about this pretty, stubborn young woman who seems oddly fascinated but also offended by him?

If these questions sound familiar, it's because they're the fundamental questions of the show, and they've been asked over and over again for seven seasons, and this is the start of the eighth. That's not necessarily fatal; the reason they keep doing the same stories is that the writers are good at writing them and Hugh Laurie is wonderful at acting them. House's first moment of panic when he realizes he's truly met his match and/or he's really done it this time has been riveting just about every time it's happened. And those relationships with young female doctors, from Cameron to Thirteen to the prison infirmary doctor in tonight's premiere, often have some great nuances to them. Always. Over and over.

House is a perfect example of a show that gives you what you came for every time. A medical mystery, sometimes overshadowed by House always seeming like maybe he's going to change or grow and then not changing or growing at all. That's probably honest — people usually don't change in huge ways; it would be disingenuous to suggest he suddenly grew a big squishy heart. And even though he never changes, the cast does. Most notably this season, Lisa Edelstein, who played Cuddy, is gone following a reported inability to reach terms on a new contract.

It's a satisfying show to watch a few times a year, to admire the high quality of the writing and the acting, and to watch House play out yet another mystery where the first diagnosis is always wrong and it's almost never lupus. Whenever I sit down and check out an episode, I always think, "This is a well done show." But it's also a show in a merciless rut that brings Dr. House to the same crisis points again and again, allows Hugh Laurie to play the heck out of them, and then retreats.

House is caught, a bit, between its episodic nature and its serialized nature. It counts too much on the dynamics of House's personality and how they interplay with the mysteries to change him very much. But because he doesn't change very much, the serial storylines go in circles. On the season premiere, Laurie continues to give a stellar performance as the same man he was seven years ago. But the small devastations that man experiences simply don't resonate the same way they once did, because the sameness of the first seven seasons is paralyzing. We know House will find a way through them, obviously, and he will come out the same. In real life, that's honest. On television, it loses its potency.

If you've seen the first seven seasons of House, you've essentially seen tonight's premiere — for good or for ill.