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TV Review: House, M.D. – “Unplanned Parenthood”

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In this week’s House, M.D. episode “Unplanned Parenthood,” Jennifer Grey (Dirty Dancing) guest stars as Abbey, a middle-aged new mother whose baby is born with serious breathing problems. In addition to dealing with her sick newborn, the new mom is also dealing with the resentment of her adult daughter, jealous that the mom who was never available when she was young, is suddenly so invested in this tiny new life. 

But it turns out that despite trying to take care of herself while pregnant, Abbey has two forms of deadly cancer: melanoma and lung cancer. The metastasized melanoma has been passed to the infant, but (almost miraculously), the antibodies from the cancer are sufficient to fight off the cancer cells in the baby. Blood transfusions from mother to newborn seem to treat the baby’s melanoma; but without treating her own dual cancers, Abbey will die—likely from a blood clot in her lung. Wanting to do right by her baby, Abbey refuses treatment until the newborn has received sufficient blood from her to kill the cancer. Sacrificing herself to save her baby, Abbey dies, leaving her baby daughter in the arms (and hands) of her other daughter.  

The medical story is pretty straight on the nose, and largely handled by the team without House (Hugh Laurie), with the addition of a pediatrician from the NICU, who becomes a candidate for a place on House’s team. She is sharp and has a lot to add, but in the end, she decides to stick with her current practice. That’s too bad; I really liked Dr. Chang. 

In the meantime, House and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) play their own unplanned parenthood game when Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) asks House to babysit Rachel. There is nothing very deep here, and I’m reminded somehow of an old Dick van Dyke (or some other similar classic situation comedy) episode where Rob Petrie and Jerry Helper (his neighbor) have to do a mom thing; it goes wrong, and Jerry and Rob try to cover it up without letting Laura know about it. Of course it eventually backfires, despite their efforts, care and really good intentions. No surprises here—completely predictable, but very, very funny.

House is pulled in several directions, caught between his natural inclination to avoid things that scare him or have challenges outside is comfort zone. This House is part jerk; part endearing and charming; part fun and funny; part wanting to do the right thing and part not. Is this how Stacy saw in him so long before we met him—before the infarction?  

House has Wilson to be a (rather misguided but effective) guide on this adventure—one the likes of which, I’m pretty sure, House has never before experienced. Yeah, House is great around kids in the clinic. He has the chops to treat them and entertain them. His has a lot of empathy for them when they’re under his care. But this is Cuddy’s kid we’re talking about and not a dying child or societal victim. The challenge is greater than conjuring miracle cures: it’s chasing a toddler around Cuddy’s home. 

House tries to bail on his promise when Rachel wakes up demanding juice. She doesn’t really want juice so much as to have a little fun. There is nothing quite so animated and exasperating as a two-year old knowing she can outrun and outfox you. House is neither physically (or in any other way) up to the task. So, who you ‘gonna call?  Wilson, of course.

House’s plan is to leave Wilson with Rachel. House plays the jerk card and leaves, believing that Wilson would never leave the baby alone in the house. Wilson plays the “it’s not me who’s getting sex from Rachel’s mom” card and threatens to do just that. In the end, neither can really leave her, so both stay to tend to the (impossibly cute) toddler. 

However, it seems that Rachel has gotten into the Chinese food Wilson has so graciously brought with him—and the bowl of popcorn House has left on the coffee table. But neither of those are the issue, as House catches her in the act of eating a coin—change from restaurant. 

Situation comedy ensues when House and Wilson frantically try to figure out if Rachel has actually swallowed any of the change, and a quick tally suggests there is still a dime missing. Of course they can’t tell Cuddy what happened. (Television males can never admit to being inferior at child care. It’s a rule.)

House goes on “poop watch” hoping that the allegedly swallowed dime will emerge as nature intends. But there is a small chance that the dime will become lodged and cause serious intestinal problems for Cuddy’s beloved baby.  So House and Wilson do what any self-respecting duo of comedy males would do and keep watch on the kid until the dime meets its natural end. Which it does—eventually. And predictably, it is Cuddy who finds the dime, right where it belongs, in Rachel’s diaper at changing time—after House and Wilson believe themselves to be in the clear.

It’s enjoyable watching House and Wilson together, totally witless about caring for a child. And trying to be sneaky in keeping the truth of the swallowed coinage from Cuddy. 

The patient story was interesting, if straightforward, but it didn’t draw me in as most episodes do. I have really enjoyed season seven; I enjoyed “Unplanned Parenthood.” I usually adore David Foster’s episodes immensely; they are usually packed with subtext and other little gems. Perhaps the subtext of this episode concerns the responsibility that goes along with parenthood—even when it’s not planned. Abbey, in an extreme understanding of the nature of this responsibility, sacrifices her life for the life of her child. Abbey’s adult daughter, in turn, accepts the yoke of responsibility—of unplanned parenthood—when Abbey dies. 

Cuddy asks House to watch Rachel, perhaps testing his willingness to be a surrogate parent (while testing her own concerns about him—expressed last episode). Can he take on the responsibility of child? Is he capable and can he rise to the occasion? At first, we’re not so sure, but when it becomes a matter or either telling Cuddy about the swallowed coin or becoming a watchful parent, House does seem to take seriously (eventually) his responsibility. It isn’t easy; it doesn’t come naturally—and he is reluctant in the extreme—and it’s completely twisted, but he does it. 

Taub (Peter Jacobson) also has responsibility thrust upon him: to be father to the team and hire a new fellow. He fails, unwilling to follow his own instincts, certain that House is setting him up to fail. And in the end, it is Taub who causes himself to fail. It isn’t quite unplanned parenthood, but it seems to sort of fit the overarching theme of the episode.

It bothered me, however, that House is barely engaged in the case, relegated to the “B” plot. But with the comedic “B” plot being so front and center (and really where the episode’s action takes place), the entire episode seemed slightly off to me. 

The series is off the air for the next few weeks, and will return November 8 with “Office Politics.” Later this week, I’ll have up my interview about the “television ratings game” with Robert Siedman of TV by the Numbers. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet, read last week’s interview with Lisa Edelstein or have a listen to a Canadian radio interview with me talking about the series and House’s season seven.

 

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Janine

    I liked this episode a lot, even if it was a little sitcom-y. I never get tired of watching men fail to car for children (and btw real men are incapable of admitting they suck at it too). I think the best part was the last scene when Rachel rats out House, that should be enough to get me through the three week break for baseball, and hopefully FOX will be back on by then I loved the House/Wilson story and I don’t mind undramatic episodes every once in a while. I had to watch on my computer because of cablevision dropping FOX, so I’ll have to watch again for the full effect. Ironically, this episode got a 6.4/10 rating in teh key demo, despite the fact that so many were without the channel!

  • Sissy

    Great episode, I laughed the whole time. looking forward to November

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    I liked it and I absolutely don’t mind the occasional comic episode. RSL and HL are brilliant together. No one does “deer in the headlights” better than HL and both of them are great physical comics.

  • Martha Lee

    I do not feel the need to watch a third time (watched online Eastern time then live my time (central).
    I hate that the show is duplicating diseases. Third time for lung cancer (second with a Mom with lung cancer) and a second time for Melonoma. The House/Wilson/Rachel plot was OK. It has been done to death on various other shows. The series is meeting my low expectations. I am still waiting to be wowed for this season.

  • marykir

    Barbara, is there a paragraph missing between pages 1 & 2? Or am I not quite awake yet?

  • http://idontcareish.livejournal.com/ Jacksam4eva

    We can’t really expect them to find a new desease for EACH NEW EPISODE, the POTW was just fine. Doctors were fun so the case was fun, I think it’s a great balance.

    I liked the ep even if the one from last week was definitely better. I have a question though : was the light in the episode really that dark or was it because the quality was bad when I watched it on megavideo? On my computer, the light was as dark as the ep in which Kutner died and I’m wondering if that was done on purpose or not.

    Anyway, I was really glad to have House and Wilson’s friendship back this week, they are just so much fun together it’s hilarious.

    November 8 seems sooo far away now, I’m gonna miss the show lol.

  • Susan

    I enjoyed the episode but worried that the anti-Cuddyites would trash it all over the internet. There wasn’t enough House in the case and he seems to be very under Cuddy’s thumb. I know he’s trying to show her that he can be trusted with Rachel but he comes off like a wuss. And Cuddy is becoming a caricature with sticking her bosom in his face. Every comment is about them having sex. They should have sex but be more discrete. I’d like more romance and some of the witty banter they used to have.Of course I love that they’re together and that CANNOT change but can the writers make it more romantic?

    I saw “Brave Heart” and “Known Unknowns” last week (thanks to the USA channel House marathons) and loved the scene in B.H. where House confesses Cuddy makes him feel funny and then towers over her and leans in to her. THAT was sexy. The 1980’s dance scene in K.U. where they talk over their past was great, but depressing when Cuddy ran away from him just when he was opening up to her. And I’m glad we’re not going back to the broken House who caught Lucas babysitting for Rachel in Cuddy’s hotel room. I like the new, happier House.

    Question – what changed between “Broken” (with the Lydia relationship) and “Epic Fail” when he ignored Cuddy to Brave Heart and Known Unknowns where he is actively wooing her?

    The baby sitting and resulting medical “crisis” was very cute. I was surprised though when House tried to walk out and leave Rachel with Wilson. Either the writers make him completely heartless or they make him mushy.

    This is turning into a negative review but I want everything to be perfect for the show and for the House-Cuddy relationship that I’ve looked forward to for so long.

    I also saw “Joy” again lately and noticed where House makes a comment about Rachel growing up and her boyfriend wanting to have sex on the desk. Which brings us to the “desk” in “Let Them Eat Cake”. Both Cuddy and House, in different episodes caress the desk. Do you think the desk will be mentioned between them in the future?

    P.S. Fox5 (which shows House) has been pulled from Cablevision because of a dispute over fees. I ended up going to my friend’s house (she has an antenna) to watch with her son (who also has Cablevision in his apartment and didn’t want to miss House). Hope the dispute ends soon!

  • Emily

    You need an editor!!!

  • Andrea

    Nice review.

    I thought they didn’t do a terribly good job developing the patient of the week or her adult daughter. I didn’t find the characters very likeable and didn’t know enough about them to really care when Abbey died. I think the writers could easily have made it an episode where people were sobbing when she was found dead.

    The House/Wilson/Rachel shenanigans, on the other hand, were pretty hilarious. Two men and a baby. House IS a jerk. Rachel at this point is one part rival for Cuddy’s affections and attention and one part his in-route to win brownie points and more sex with Cuddy. He was funny when he pretended to coo over how cute Rachel looked asleep while he was pretending to go to check on her. He’s got the baby monitor there. I assume he can hear the child breathing perfectly well using it.

    There were also some signs of just how important his relationship with Cuddy is and how afraid he is of losing it. I think he’s very, very afraid of losing his temper with Rachel and hurting her, maybe the way John House hurt him, and he didn’t want to risk it. Hence, he calls Wilson, “a responsible adult” and someone he thinks will be the perfect babysitter, so he can’t do any damage. Then, when Rachel swallows the coins and House knows he’s in for it, he’s really desperate not to face Cuddy’s wrath and probably afraid Cuddy will leave him over it. He and Wilson watch Rachel like a pair of hawks, too, and they do take responsibility for making sure she’s OK after their momentary lapse. They know what to do for her as doctors, if not as babysitters. Still, House’s hands are shaking when he thinks he’s going to have to scope Rachel and I don’t think it was due to low blood sugar. He’s terrified that something’s going to happen to the child or Cuddy will find out and leave him.

    It was also obvious that Rachel was completely at ease with House and Wilson, which suggests to me that House has spent more time around her than a night or two. She’s used to him being his snarky self, isn’t afraid of him. He paid enough attention to her to know that she hates the imaginary moose that she thinks lives outside her window. She was completely fascinated and amused listening to House “soothingly” fire someone and be mean to his team. She wanted him to play with her, not give her more juice. She enjoyed watching House and Wilson squabble like a pair of clowns and seeing Wilson climb out her bedroom window. The trip to the hospital was fun. What kid wouldn’t like funny Uncle James the Tickle Monster who gave her lots of candy?

    I’d love to hear the unwritten aftermath of that episode and Cuddy’s conversation with House when she figures it all out after Rachel rats House out. I’m guessing Cuddy is angry; I’m also guessing that she won’t leave him over it as House fears. I’d like to see them address what happened in future episodes. They’ll eventually arrive at some kind of dynamic they can all live with.

  • Barbara barnett

    Marykir and Emily,

    Case of a vestigial paragraph and wanting to get the review up sooner rather than later (blush). Unneeded paragraph squelched. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Susan

    Emily #8 – I know! I just wrote everything on my mind and was too lazy to edit.
    Sorry.

  • http://blogcritics.org/video/article/tv-review-house-md-unplanned-parenthood/ Nuran

    New season so far has been disappointing. This episode was the worst, undeveloped characters, silly Rachel jokes, sex talk talk
    …………

  • andreec

    I am enjoying season 7 and love watching House evolve before our eyes as he allows himself to engage in a real relationship with Cuddy. His cooing firing dialogue with Rachel next to him on the couch was HILARIOUS. Ditto him checking the sleeping child while describing her to Cuddy over the phone. That’s the House we all love. He’s still a jerk but he knows when to cover it up. LOVE THAT. As for House and Cuddy in the early phases of their affair, I thought it was a riot how House couldn’t sleep knowing Rachel had swallowed the dime. How House jumped out of bed at the first sound of Rachel waking up as Cuddy snoozed blissfully unaware. The dichotomy of their opposite expressions on the two pillows was the depth of character we’ve come to expect on this terrific show. I do think some of the fans are suffering a bit from boardroom boredom in expecting freakishly out of this world medical cases every week. I thought the pacing is just right. I mean, seriously, how many murdered dictators/gun shooters terrorizing staff/bizarre far-out diseases do we have to endure to enjoy the pure character development each week? If I wanted hype and melodrama, I’d be watching greys anatomy. No, this season is about the real-ish world were relationships take time. I love that Chase isn’t already skirt chasing hardcore but exploring his options now that Cameron left. Or that Foreman is stirring up hell since 13 left. The lack of standard tv-melodrama seems right, normal to me, and that leaves time for the doctors and staff to explore life outside the hospital a little and let the little things come into view. A kid swallowing a coin? Normal and realistic. Cuddy’s kid swallowing a coin while House was in charge, yes it is the end of the world as House knows it! What’s not to love. Can’t wait for the fireworks of Candice Bergen to take place or the co-worker’s wedding with House, Wilson and Cuddy attending. I love that this show keeps things mellow at times and doesn’t fall for the typical tv-show dramatics that make you roll your eyes. Would love to see a little more clinic time and a little more Huddy interaction at work now that these two are “outed” and staff must know theyre dating. Want to see more of that if possible.

  • andreec

    oops. typo in above comment. Meant to say that Foreman is NOT stirring up hell now that 13 has left. Adding here: Like that Foreman is rooting for House and Cuddy’s relationship. Maybe to prove to himself he too can one day have a successful romantic relationship at work?

  • Delia_Beatrice

    Thank you for your review, Barbara. Delightful read, as ever.

    I felt that the episode was entirely built upon the “planned” versus “unplanned” dichotomy – which, when reported to the delicate issue of parenthood, almost always leaves us with the conclusion that it can never be expected to go “as planned”.

    ABBEY: She had her first child presumably when she was quite young and she seems to have raised her in the absence of much planning – however, with reasonably good results. But later on in her life, she tried for retrospective repair of that experience, having a second child in regard to whom she had planned everything to perfection. Things, however, span horribly out of control for her, forcing her to face an unplanned situation that ultimately cost her her life.

    THE ELDER DAUGHTER: she is confronted with unplanned parenthood of her little sister. Despite the older daughter’s latent resentment towards her mother – which seems to resolve into post-mortem absolution and forgiveness -, she seems to be prepared to handle the situation just right – even though I found her scene with the baby a bit too obvious, the same message could have been sent in far fewer words.

    CUDDY: she had carefully planned for in vitro insemination and then for adopting a baby, but eventually ended up getting one in a highly unplanned and very dramatic situation. As a mother, she had faced many unplanned situations, like the current ones that make for her lack of an available babysitter.

    HOUSE: ultimately unprepared for fatherhood, House faced a very tricky situation. His history in regard to Cuddy’s motherhood is filled with painful experiences: he had first felt that he was losing Cuddy when she wanted to adop