And so, after eight seasons, Fox’s hit series House, M.D. has ended, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released its final set of House on DVD and Blu-ray. Starting out in 2004 as a procedural medical mystery series featuring a cynical, sarcastic, borderline-misanthropic doctor, House, M.D. quickly became a layered, well-written character study of a troubled genius, who struggled with pain, drugs and a desire, in the end, to “do the right thing.”
Although the series occasionally strayed as the years went on, its final season rallied, granting fans a proper ending—finished, yet open ended enough that viewers could decided for themselves the ultimate fate of Dr. Gregory House. The season eight DVD set is a must for House fans, a farewell to a dear friend who will be greatly missed.
Over the years, House has been confronted with challenge after challenge, a post-modern Sisyphus overcoming adversity time after time only to fall backwards and push his way up once again—one or two steps forward and five or ten back. It’s a cycle of which some fans eventually grew weary, but others saw as heroic as House’s usually irrepressible spirit (and childlike sense of the absurd) came back against pain, depression, loss and his own dysfunctional way of handling life. House was one of the most compelling heroes ever to grace the small screen, and Hugh Laurie’s ability to let viewers see beyond his off-putting behavior and into House’s very human heart and soul (mostly) kept the character from ever becoming too unlikeable.
Although neither creator David Shore nor the writers knew at the start of the season that this was to be the last year, there is a sense of finality from the start of season eight—a drive towards some final conclusion to the real mystery at the heart of the series: Dr. House, himself. Who is he after all the layers and guarding are finally shed? What’s beneath the sarcasm, the pranks, and the the jerk that House could sometimes be?
Shore gave fans a wonderful gift, revealing the essence to Dr. Gregory House and a validation to those who have always believed in his essential humanity. It was a fit and proper ending to a great television series. In the end, season eight brings viewers back to what has made the show so compelling—and why, although many series try to hit with the same formula, so few (if any) have succeeded in capturing viewers hearts and minds to the extent that House has.
As season eight begins, House is several months into a prison sentence for plowing his car into ex-girlfriend Lisa Cuddy’s house in the season seven finale. “Twenty Vicodin” begins House’s journey back to what he believes will be his old life, but not before we observe House both in his element among his fellow inmates, and victimized and bullied by those with more power than he has—a very different environment for him. But even once he returns to Princeton Plainsboro Hospital, as much as he tries—and as much as he’d like—House is in a different position. Powerless, without either staff or budget, he suddenly finds he has no staff, no office, and no budget. He suddenly finds himself reporting to a new Dean of Medicine—Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps), his former fellow and occasional antagonist. Foreman knows House’s tricks and proves a pretty decent foil for the worst of House’s behavior (much better than I had expected). For much of the season, House has his parole hanging over his head, and Foreman seems fairly comfortable using that as an often, but not always, effective check on House’s behavior.
Eventually, House manages to finagle his way into some money for the department—enough to lure Chase (Jesse Spencer) back into the fold, and to hire a new fellow (played by Odette Annable), as well as take on a socially awkward female medical student (played by Charlyne Yi). His cobbled-together staff, headed by Chase and Taub (Peter Jacobson), come into their own, with House often distancing himself from the weekly cases, something I think is one of the main weaknesses of season eight. For it is when House has connected with his patients that we see into his soul—what he’s thinking and what he feels.
Overall, however, season eight is a strong season, especially for a series nearing the end of its life. There are a few really exceptional episodes, including the premiere “Twenty Vicodin,” and “Nobody’s Fault,” one of the series occasional non-linear narratives, which reveals through flashback events that led to a near fatal accident, and House’s responsibility for it. In my opinion both episodes belong on a “best of” House, M.D. list.
The series’ final narrative arc beginning with episode 19, “The C-Word” drives the series to a powerful, compelling conclusion as House is confronted by the most difficult challenge to his psyche yet—Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. It is one of the series best multi-episode story arcs. Watching these final four episodes back to back, with no commercials is reason enough to purchase the set. The episodes are some of the series’ strongest, with indelible performances from both Leonard and Laurie as they both try to cope with Wilson’s imminent death as well as House’s reaction to it.
Including all 22 season eight episodes, the five-disc set also includes three bonus features, including “Swan Song,” the excellent one-hour documentary that was broadcast on Fox just before the series finale aired May 21.
The featurette, directed by Geoff Colo and told through the perspective of star Hugh Laurie, takes viewers behind the scenes and through eight seasons of the beloved series. I have to admit to the need for a tissue to dab my moist eyes in various places throughout.
The second featurette in the set is “The Doctor Directs,” in which Laurie presents the details, day by day, of producing Episode 19, “The C-Word.” Although interesting, the featurette is a bit too long. And although I adore Hugh Laurie (and think his direction of “The C-Word” is brilliant), I found the documentary a bit too much self-deprecating commentary by Director Laurie and too much detail (and I normally love the behind the scenes stuff). I liked it, but feel it could have used more editing. I would have preferred that Laurie’s thoughts been offered scene by scene as a commentary track to the episode (perhaps accompanied by a shorter “making-of” featurette).
The final featurette is “’Everybody Dies’: A Postmortem.” In this feature, the cast and crew reflect upon the series finale. It’s a fond farewell to the fans—and to each other. It is well done, and something I’m likely to watch again.
If you are by chance new to House, don’t attempt to start watching with season eight. You need to understand House, M.D. as a long novel; watch it from beginning to end. Don’t believe the conventional wisdom that the show is a formulaic procedural series. It is not. So start with the “Pilot” and work your way through all eight seasons.
If you’re a long-time viewer of the series, the season eight DVD set is a must to complete your collection. The only thing really lacking is the presence of commentary tracks. Each season’s DVD and Blu-ray set has come with at least a couple of commentary tracks, and I was looking forward to enjoying at least the season premiere and finale with commentary from David Shore or the writers, but alas it was not to be.
All content on the Blu-ray, including the bonus features is presented in 1080p with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The picture is crystal clear, with saturated colors, even better than the HD broadcast versions. The sound for dialogue and music is rich and clear. If you have Blu-ray equipment, buy the Blu-ray set; the price is the same (at least at Amazon.com) as the DVD, as are the features. Both sets come with UltraViolet Digital Download versions so you can play the episodes easily on your computer or mobile device.
Note to my readers: I will be starting a House, M.D. “rewatch” beginning in September. We’ll begin with season one, episode one, watching one episode each Monday night. I will follow up with a fresh commentary for each episode, and of course open the thread for lots of discussion. We’ll go at least through season three, covering the seasons before I began Welcome to the End of the Thought Process here on Blogcritics. Stay tuned on Twitter for more information as we get closer.