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House, M.D. season six on Blu-ray. Perfect pre-season entertainment!

Blu-ray Review: House Season Six

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.

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)."

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