If it’s the last week in August, it must be time for Universal Studios Home Entertainment to release its latest season of House, M.D. on disc. Season 7 of the FOX series, starring Hugh Laurie in the titular role is available August 30 on Blu-ray and DVD. The newest collection of House episodes includes all 23 episodes from last season and a nice collection of extras, including an in-episode feature exclusive to the Blu-ray release.
Season 7 asks whether the troubled genius diagnostician Dr. Gregory House is capable of sustaining a romantic relationship. The results for House are as mixed as the season for the series is uneven, with many highs both for the doctor and the series—and a few lows (I’m still bothered by “Fall from Grace.”)
It’s always a risk when move characters from unresolved sexual tension—something always in the air between House and his boss, Dean of Medicine Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein in her final season on the show)—to a full-blown love affair. And in the case of House, whose quest for happiness is an underlying theme of the series, it’s not possible for him to complete this possibly futile quest (if he ever does) so long before the series ends. It’s possible for him to grab happiness in fleeting bits, finding it where he can, but House is a fundamentally unhappy man, afflicted with serious chronic pain issues and a pessimistic attitude toward happiness and life. At the end of Season 6—arguably one of the lowest points in House’s life—Cuddy appears almost miraculously in his apartment, declaring her love—and rescuing him from disaster.
Can House be happy? Is his mistrust of happiness and love so ingrained that he is destined to sabotage (even unconsciously) his new relationship with Cuddy? And Cuddy, herself, doesn’t possess a winning track record in the love department either. And going into the relationship ambivalent and wary isn’t necessarily going to help nurture it. The relationship, lasting the first 15 episodes—and its aftermath—frames Season 7, often taking a back seat to the multitude of diagnostic puzzles and odd ailments.
As the season progresses, House’s preoccupation with Cuddy, the relationship and his fears about it often distract him from the week’s case, leaving the team to take much more of a leadership role. That works enough of the time, but takes House, perhaps too often, out of the case, leaving many viewers to sorely miss the troubled, introspective genius. Especially after House and Cuddy break up, House is distant from the cases as he careens out of control toward the devastating penultimate and finale episodes of Season 7. The finale episode, in fact, sent shockwaves through the online fan community, leaving many wondering if House (and House) simply had gone too far.
Although it dominates Season 7, the “Huddy” story isn’t the only narrative arc threading through the episodes. With Olivia Wilde (“Thirteen”) pursuing her film career for much of Season 7 (and “Thirteen” therefore missing in action), House adds a medical student to his team. Martha Masters (Amber Tamblyn) is genius-level smart, perhaps almost as smart as House, himself, but with a strongly dissenting ethical view. Masters adds a new dimension to the diagnostics team. More sure of her own moral compass than she is afraid of House, she stands her ground, going toe-to-toe with The Master. But when “Thirteen” returns (“The Dig”), Masters leaves the fold, graduating medical school—and Princeton-Plainsboro’s legendary Diagnostics Department.
House’s best friend Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) continues his relationship with ex-wife Samantha (Cynthia Watros), until making the mistake of proposing to her—and doubting her medical honesty (“Office Politics”). Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) finally begins to find himself after being at sea since Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) leaves him in Season 6. And Dr. Christopher Taub (Peter Jacobson) finds harmony with his own ex-wife, while going back to his old ways…and gets a big surprise by season’s end.
Of course each episode, no matter the character drama, is structured around rare or odd medical cases, including a small pox scare (“A Pox on Our House”). We are introduced to Cuddy’s mother Arlene (Candice Bergen), and learn the dangerous lengths to which House will go to eradicate the ever-present pain in his leg (“After Hours”).
Although the series is very much character-driven, without a lot of big action sequences, the Blu-ray release is definitely a cut above the standard definition DVD set. As someone who watches the episodes only in high definition, I was surprised to see the picture and audio quality even better in Blu-ray than in the high definition broadcast transmission or via high-def download. It’s especially notable in the opening sequences, which are usually more effects and action oriented.
Episodes like “Out of the Chute,” which begins with a rodeo bull riding sequence is cinematic in Blu-ray, and visually stunning. “Bombshells,” with its central production number of “Be Happy” and several other dream sequences really pops with the Blu-ray presentation of 1080p, with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is always crisp, and Jon Erlich’s integral musical soundscape, whether part of the episode or underlaying comes through as rich and evocative, never overpowering the action or emotion on screen. The musical numbers that often overlay dialogue-free montages fill the room beautifully.
The Blu-ray release comes several exclusive features, including Universal’s U-Control, which allows viewers to tap into an in-episode, picture-in-picture feature called “A Beginner’s Guide to Diagnostic Medicine.” Other Blu-ray features include BD-LIVE, which allows those with an Internet-connected player to obtain trailers and other content; and Pocket-Blu, which allows those with a tablet or smart phone to tap into a specially-designed remote control and other exclusive Universal features. These features have become standard on Universal Blu-ray releases.
The Blu-ray also includes several extras also available on the DVD release. “Huddy Dissected” explores the House-Cuddy relationship: how and why the series brought them together only to break them up 15 episodes later. Comments from Lisa Edelstein, showrunners Katie Jacobs and David Shore, series star Hugh Laurie, and others offer insights into their relationship going back to the series first season, also acknowledging the strong fan reaction to “Huddy”—and the breakup of these two pivotal characters.
“Anatomy of an Episode: ‘Bombshells’” is a fascinating exploration into what is probably the second most controversial episode of the season—and one of the most technically complex the series has done to date. Whatever you may have thought of the episode, this detailed featurette is really interesting from both a technical point of view and to note what the actors, including Laurie, Edelstein and Robert Sean Leonard thought of the process and doing the episode, with its surreal dream sequences and large musical production number.
The release also includes featurettes on bringing “Thirteen” back to the team in “The Dig” and on creating a role for actress Amber Tamblyn in “Meet Martha Masters.”
Commentaries are always tricky; sometimes they offer nothing but production notes on episodes when what most fans want focuses more on the players and storylines. The commentaries in the Season 7 release are some of the best the series has offered on its annual DVD/Blu-ray collections. I especially enjoyed the commentary on “Bombshells” features Greg Yaitanes and Lisa Edelstein, and really explores the emotional and character beats of the episode, particularly those of Cuddy and House as they both deal with Cuddy’s cancer scare. Given the nature of the episode, they talk at length about putting together the TV and film-homage dream sequences, especially the staging the highly choreographed “Get Happy” production number.
During the commentary for “Moving On,” David Shore and Greg Yaitanes discuss the Season 7 opener “Now What,” and the major changes made to the original filmed script. Shore and Yaitanes also pay tribute to Lisa Edelstein, acknowledging that “Moving On,” is her last episode on the series. They also take the time to discuss the wonderful way in which Laurie and Edelstein essentially created the characters and relationship.
There is also a nice commentary track to accompany “The Dig” with writers David Hoselton and Sara Hess, again, using the opportunity to talk about the characters and actors (and about, as many fans know, the brilliance of Hugh Laurie’s eye acting).
Watching Season 7 on Blu-ray (or DVD) really enhances the viewing experience; there are no commercials, and no several-week-long gaps to play havoc the series momentum. There is no better way to prepare for the roller coaster that Season 8 promises than to treat yourself to this Blu-ray (if you have the equipment) or DVD collection. Season eight premieres October 3 on FOX.