What could be better? It’s spring, the weather is warming up. Oh, and did I mention? House, M.D. returns with its final run of six episodes Monday night. After fits and starts, and interrupted narrative flow, the show back and airing new episodes without a break until the end of the season mid-May.
The show comes back with a real bang as Hugh Laurie directs his first House episode, “Lockdown.”episode is a break-the-formula entry surrounding the disappearance of an infant from its crib. When the child is discovered missing, the hospital goes on “lockdown” status and everyone is frozen in place where they are. Until the issue is resolved and the find the baby, everyone is stuck in place: Forman and Taub are stuck together in a file room; Wilson and 13 are trapped in the cafeteria; (and if you didn’t already know) Chase and Cameron finally are able to (hopefully) gain some closure after their abrupt end in last fall’s “Teamwork.”
House is stuck with a dying patient, played by Oscar-nominated actor David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck). The patient is someone whose case House declined, so he’s not very happy with his involuntary companion.
Strathairn is an acclaimed film and stage actor, whose work spans from playing Eddie Cicotte, the star pitcher of the infamous Chicago “Black” Sox team in 1919 in Jon Sayles’ Eight Men Out to Edward R. Murrow (for which Strathairn received an Oscar nomination) in Good Night, and Good Luck.
I first saw Strathairn in the short lived, quirky and superb “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.” He played Moss Goodman, a socially (but appealingly) awkward, introverted bookseller who had a thing for Molly.
He’s the kind of actor you might expect to be at home playing that sort of role—professors, booksellers, writers: cerebral, reserved, slightly awkward. His role in Sneakers as Irwin 'Whistler' Emery: a blind, idealistic genius of a computer hacker is classic Strathairn.
But then catch him in Matewan (another Sayles movie—he’s known the director since their college days), playing the reluctant hero police chief in a mining town, or in LA Confidential as Kim Basingers’ smarmy (but politically connected) pimp, Pierce Patchett. And you realize Strathairn is a real chameleon—a real character actor.
And then there’s Good Night, and Good Luck in which Strathairn transforms himself into Edward R. Murrow, the courageous, pioneering broadcast journalist during the infamous and scary days of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the blacklist. He is mesmerizing in the role.
So what’s he doing dropping in on a network television show? Well, House has been known to attract some very high-powered actors: from Tony winners Cynthia Nixon (“Deception” in season two) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Broken,” season six) to Oscar-honored actors Mira Sorvino (“Frozen,” season four), Jeremy Renner (“Games,” season four)—and now Strathairn. OK, so Renner guested before his big Hurt Locker break.
They’re attracted to the exceptional writing, directing and the opportunity to work with the best actor in television (lack of Emmy Award notwithstanding). But this time, it’s Laurie behind the camera directing himself. No newcomer to directing, this is Laurie’s first time wearing the director’s cap for House.
“I was a little trepidatious about [directing Strathairn] because he's a sort of towering figure, someone, an actor I've admired for so many years,” Laurie commented in an interview provided to TV writers by Fox.
Although he may have been a bit daunted, Laurie found Strathairn great to work with. “He's so, so good, and the performance he gives in this show is absolutely stunning. Very, very bright; very, very thoughtful. I mean, he could not have been more generous and more gentle.”
"Lockdown"'s premise is promising: Strathairn and Laurie forced into a room with only each other as company: an angry and dying patient and House, who might have altered this patient’s fate if he’d deigned to take the case. The scenario is delicious and has the potential for compelling television. Add the directorial touch of the man who knows the characters better than anyone (perhaps including creator David Shore), and gently stir. I can’t wait.
“Lockdown” airs Monday night, April 12 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Meantime, check out some of David Strathairn’s work.