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Blu-ray Review: House Season Six

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With the House, M.D. season seven premiere less than a month away (September 20 on Fox), now is a perfect time to catch up on or re-watch season six. And to accommodate, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has put together a treasure chest of delights in the House Season Six Blu-ray High Definition Box set, available August 31.

Season six is a year of transition for our antihero House (Hugh Laurie). His narrative moves forward into a new realm, beginning with a serious attempt at finding an alternative to Vicodin for his chronic pain, and entering therapy to address his considerable emotional issues. Likewise the other characters move on as well—for better or worse, all amid the weekly medical zebras taken on by House and his team of fellows.

In some ways, the season seemed a bit off kilter: House is no longer living in his apartment; Cuddy becomes involved (and then engaged) with man-child Lucas Douglas; Wilson renews his relationship with his first wife. And as the season goes on House begins to wonder if psychotherapy, antidepressants, and trying to reconnect with humanity is really worth the sacrifice—a season of transition.

The season’s bookends are among the series’ best episodes. The season premiere “Broken” (for which Hugh Laurie is in contention for an Emmy Award), is House’s journey on the road back to sanity. Featuring powerhouse performances by Laurie and guest star Andre Braugher as House’s psychiatrist, House spends two months as a patient at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital to emerge on the rather shaky road to recover. And at the end of this road we find “Help Me,” the season six finale, where House may, finally, at long last, begin to find what he seeks so hard during season six: happiness. In between, there are assassinations, divorces, reconnections, loves won and lost, black holes, noble knights and even karaoke.

For the first time this year, Universal Home Media is releasing its House, M.D. DVD box set in Blu-ray in addition to the usual standard definition version. Admittedly, House is not a really a big effects show. Most episodes feature a lot of talking, walking and thinking; it is, at its heart, a character study. So, you might wonder, why Blu-ray? There are actually several very good reasons.

Over the seasons, the series directors have created a few effects-laden sequences that would rival much of what you might see on the “big screen.” Most of the time, those expensive and expansive sequences are reserved for season premieres and finales. Shot almost as if they are independent two-minute mini movies, they are usually quite separate from the episode’s main action, and important only in that they set up the episode’s medical case and patient. But in season six, several episodes feature elaborate effects sequences, and viewed in high definition they are even more memorable.

Episodes like “Epic Fail” (6×02), “Black Hole” (6×15) “Knight Fall” (6×17) and “Help Me” (6×21) beautifully rendered in the 1080p high definition that Blu-ray offers is a real treat. And although you can buy the season six DVD set in standard definition, I would highly recommend Blu-ray, if you have the playback equipment to view it.

“Epic Fail” opens in a virtual reality game with monsters carrying space blasters. It is especially effects-heavy with elaborate animation having been created especially for the episode’s VR sequences. As beautifully as it played when originally shown last fall (even in high definition), the Blu-ray transfer really makes everything just pop in stunning visuals and sound. Better still, the Blu-ray version features a “making of” featurette of this episode as well called “Crazy Cool Episode: Epic Fail,” which focuses on the creation of the VR game and animation effects. This featurette is exclusive to the Blu-ray release and is not included in the standard definition set.

“Black Hole” begins with a shot in the cosmos and draws down onto the week’s patient in a planetarium. In Blu-ray, the galaxy literally explodes onto the screen; it is gorgeous, as are the other effects and dream sequences in the episode. “Knight Fall” isn’t especially effects-laden, but with its setting in a Renaissance festival, the music and costumes—and the sword play featured in the episode’s opening, it really lends itself to high definition treatment.

And of course the season finale “Help Me,” set at a disaster site and shot with a Canon 5D high definition digital still camera is a real treat in Blu-ray. I even noticed little things in the transfer (both in the soundtrack and the visuals) that were not apparent—even having earlier watched the episode several times from my high definition DVR feed.

The Blu-ray box set includes 21 (22 if you count the two-hour “Broken” as two) episodes on five discs. There are several extras and special features, more than any other House box set has included, including some exclusive to the Blu-ray release.

There are commentary tracks for four episodes (the most ever included on a House DVD set): “Broken,” “Wilson,” “5 to 9,” and “Help Me.” The “Broken” commentary features director/executive producer Katie Jacobs, writer/executive producers Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner. The “5-to-9” commentary features Lisa Edelstein (who plays Lisa Cuddy) and writer/executive producer Thomas L. Moran; the commentary for “Wilson” is with series star Robert Sean Leonard (who plays Wilson), and writer/supervising producer David Foster, M.D. The commentary for “Help Me” features director Greg Yaitanes and the episode’s search and rescue consultant Larry Collins. Each of the commentaries is excellent, adding depth not only to the viewers’ understanding of the technical aspects of the episodes, but the emotional beats as well.

But wait! There’s more!

Several other meaty bonus features enhance the five-disc set. “Before Broken” takes us back to Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital with never-before seen footage. In an unusual move for series television, after filming the final scene of the season five finale “Both Sides Now,” executive producer Katie Jacobs and star Hugh Laurie stayed behind on location in New Jersey to explore the psychiatric hospital used for the season six. Following Laurie in his House persona, Jacobs captured him on film as he wandered about the facility doing what House might do confined at Mayfield. Although some of the footage made it into the two-hour “Broken” much of it did not, and the video is an amazing keepsake for House (and Hugh Laurie) fans. “A New House for House” takes a detailed look at the season six premiere, its sets, props and the people who populate it.

Season six was also the year that Laurie directed his first House episode, “Lockdown.” In “A Different POV – Hugh Laurie Directs,” we are taken through the production process through Laurie’s eyes. He and his cast mates comment on the process and Laurie’s House directorial debut.

Blu-ray Exclusives

The Blu-ray set includes some extras not available in the standard definition version of the box set. The aforementioned featurette on “Epic Fail,” and something called “U-Control.” The U-Control feature allows you to access something called “A Beginner’s Guide to Diagnostic Medicine,” which, using picture-in-picture, explains the medicine in various scenes. Hit a button, and a little card pops up along with a voice over to bring you up to speed on the case’s bizarre symptoms, illnesses and treatments. Another neat feature with the Blu-ray version called “My Scenes” allows you to bookmark your favorite moments, so you can watch them over and over without having to fast forward through the entire episode (which is an important feature for the House-obsessed—and House-obsessed! The Blu-ray set also includes “Mobile to Go,” allowing viewers access to additional material when they have access to a Wi-Fi network.

The House Season Six Blu-ray box set displays the episodes in 1080p video with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. I highly recommended this set for any House fan.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Curious that they call it Season Six as opposed to The Complete Sixth Season. That usually indicates that there have been edits since the programs aired. Is anything missing or changed, say like music used?

  • Janice

    Now I want to change my pre-order to Blu-ray. Sounds great!

  • Bicho–

    The only thing I can tell that’s been altered at all is that “Broken” was originally classified as a two part episode 6×01 and 6×02. Now it’s 6×01. Instead of 22 episodes, therefore, it’s only 21.

  • Looking forward to this. Thanks for the review, Barbara!

  • DebbieJ.

    Ok, now I’m off to my Amazon account to see if I preordered the Blu-Ray or regular version! Thanks for the review, Barbara!

  • Cathy

    Thanks for the review, Barbara. Finally broke down and bought a Blu-Ray player when I heard about this release! 🙂

  • ruthinor

    A question, can Blu-Ray players be used to view non-Blu-Ray discs?

  • ruthinor–yes, Blu-ray players can play standard def discs.

  • ruthinor

    I don’t have a Blu-Ray player and was looking around at reviews. It’s all pretty confusing. If anyone here can recommend a reasonably priced player which will be used only with my HDTV (SONY) and to play CDs, I would appreciate it. I don’t need all the bells and whistles. I understand that at least some players can upgrade non-HD DVDs to near-HD quality (is this correct?). I would appreciate any input. Thanks.

  • bennet c.

    Definitely gonna get the blu-ray for those extra features… they have a few previews of some of the features up on youtube, if anyone is still on the fence about grabbing this!

    looks AWESOME.

  • Flo

    I don’t have any blu-ray players.

    I happened to have my hands on some of the features and I must say i was disappointed in the commentary of “5 to 9”. As usual, the commentaries are useless. Very, very few real informations about how the episode was written, directed, made etc. Just a bunch of people who like to say how much they like and admire each other and to throw some joke or talk about something else.
    Not very informative. Too bad.

    The rest seems more engaging.

  • ruthinor

    I watched the commentary on “Help Me” and it was all about how they set it up, photography, etc. I actually thought it was repetitive and boring. There was very little about the story itself.

  • Ruthinor. When I first started listening to the Help Me commentary I was incredibly disappointed as well, but (I think) five or 10 minutes into it, Greg got more into the emotion of the episode and how it worked on that level, it completely changed my mind about the Help Me commentary.

  • DebbieJ.

    Barbara, I just wanted to thank you for this review. If I had not read it, I never would have considered buying the Blu Ray version, even tho I have a blu ray disc player in my rec room. The sound and picture quality are amazing. I had some reservations about seeing everyone in hi def as I know it sometimes isn’t flattering to an actor’s appearance. But I have not found that to be the case. Everyone looks amazing, stunning. And I didn’t think Olivia Wilde could look anymore gorgeous than she already is, but the hi def definitely does not diminish her beauty; it enhances it. (How dare she? 😉

    I haven’t watched any of the episodes’ commentaries yet but loved all the other extras on Disc 1, and I especially enjoyed seeing how they put together the video game sequences in Epic Fail. That was truly amazing! The other extra were awesome, seeing how they put together Broken and Mayfield.

    But one thing that bothers me about this box set. Who in the world designed the casing? Every time I attempt to pop a disc out of it or back into it, I’m afraid the disc is going to break! Whose idea was that? I don’t expect you to know the answer, but I just wanted to vent! LOL