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How did House, M.D. fare in 2011? Have a peek at the Great, the Good, and the not so much.

House, M.D. 2011: The Great, the Good – and the Not So Good

It’s been a rocky, roller-coaster of a year for Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), and indeed, for the House, M.D. series. For Dr. House, 2011 saw his relationship with Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) crash and burn, just before he did the same. The series itself has varied from excellent fare like season seven’s “After Hours” to episodes that had the doctor go so far off the rails that he ventured on the other side of that fine line between “yeah, he’s a jerk, but I get why he’s doing that” to “he’s just a plain old jerk.” It’s on that side of the line where House becomes so unlikeable, it’s easy to stop caring about his fate, his pain or anything else about him.

The Great…

There have been some excellent episodes over the past 12 months; some of my favorites include season seven’s “Larger than Life,” “Family Practice,” “Bombshells” (despite some flaws), “Out of the Chute,” “The Dig,” “Moving On,” and the aforementioned “After Hours.” Only eight episodes have thus far aired in season eight, but “Twenty Vicodin” (especially) and “Perils of Paranoia” both were excellent outings for the current season.

One of the highlights of the past year (for me at least) is Candice Bergen’s appearance as Cuddy’s mother Arlene. She makes a great Jewish mother, and her scenes with Hugh Laurie crackled. I loved to see House’s protective side emerge in “Larger than Life,” and his wise side pay a visit as he advises Cuddy in “Family Practice,” both spurred by Arlene’s presence.

Although I loved to see House and Cuddy together, I was not bothered by their breakup, and feel that episodes like “Out of the Chute,” allow us to see the depths to which House fell after Stacy left him. We know he fell apart, and now we understand why Wilson has always been so protective of House in any relationship situation. Out of control and reckless on the surface, emotionally shattering inside, House was a wreck, and I think we all feared for his safety (and sanity) along with Wilson when he leaped from that balcony at the end of the episode.

Now I know some of you will scold me for putting “Bombshells” and “Moving On” (the season seven finale) on my list of 2011 bests, but I feel that both episodes get into House’s psyche, his fears—and his anger about so many things. I may not have liked what House did at the end of “Moving On,” but it is plausible, given his state of mind.

I also very much liked “The Dig.” It is a brilliant way of exposing Thirteen’s inner turmoil, while allowing House’s more human side to surface in unexpected ways. The best of season eight so far has to be (for me) “Twenty Vicodin.” I love seeing House powerless and getting by solely on his wits (and not always coming out victorious).

…The Good

I have to admit that coming into season eight, I was not a big fan of making Foreman (Omar Epps) dean of medicine. But I think, for the most part,  it has worked pretty well. Other than bringing in an outsider, I like the way this new position is beginning to affect Foreman, particularly as Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) have begun to work their mojo on him.

I like the addition of Odette Anable (Adams) and Charlyne Yi (Park) to House’s team, but it’s been too few episodes to put them in the “great” category. There is a lot of potential there.

I was also a bit bothered by Wilson and House getting their rhythm back so quickly after House’s return from prison. But not as much as I thought I would be. I think Wilson understands what in House’s psyche provoked him to act so rashly and recklessly in “Move On,” and now that House is out of prison, it’s easy to slip back to old patterns. And season eight has been full of much House-Wilson goodness.

…And the Not So Good

So, now for the not so good. I think Lisa Edelstein’s departure was a terrible loss for the series. Although “Moving On” left the series in a reasonable place for her absence in season eight, I feel that her presence at the would have created an enormous amount of dramatic energy off of which to play into this season. Would House have even had an office to which he could return? Would his professional value to the hospital have trumped Cuddy’s fury? Would they at some point come to some sort of understanding? We’ll never know. (Unless the recent rumors pan out and she returns for a few episodes). It was shortsighted of the network to let her walk away with only one (or possibly two) seasons remaining to the show. Along with Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and House, they had always been the core of the series. Can it survive without her? Of course—and it has, with a very solid opening eight episodes. But it would be nice to have her back for some closure.

I will also miss Thirteen, now that Olivia Wilde has gone to more lucrative pastures on the big screen. I know a lot of fans were not crazy about her, especially early on in her tenure, but like Cuddy, Thirteen had always been able to get under House’s skin and out him as being rather more human than he might wish to be.

I think, though, the thing I feel is most lacking from the series at this point is the troubled, introspective genius that has been so much a part of this complex, flawed character since the very beginning. House has become less three-dimensional of late, and whether that’s because, post-prison, he’s just happy to be out (and not prone to too much introspection) or it’s something The Powers That Be have decided not to make us privy to that side, I don’t know. I do know that, for me, the jokey, boorish, flippant House without the serious, intellectual, driven man underpinning him is incomplete. It’s not the House I fell in love with back in 2004.

My House Wish List for 2012

I’d like to see the character of House be less over-the-top manchild, balanced with some of his earlier seriousness. More one-on-one conversations with patients, moments of poignancy, and an occasional emotional punch to the gut. Gregory House used to make me cry at least once a season (sometimes more).

Chase needs more to do. Jesse Spencer is such a good actor. He brings a lot of complexity to Chase, and his journey from spoiled brat to intelligent, thoughtful healer has been such a joy to watch. I’d like to see more of Chase’s journey.

It would be sweet to bring Cuddy back to Princeton (if not the hospital) for at least a short arc. And speaking of bringing characters back, I continue to hope for a return of Dr. Nolan, House’s psychiatrist. House has seemingly stopped dealing at all with his issues; the return of his shrink would be huge, and the scenes between Hugh Laurie and Andre Braugher always sizzled with tension. 

We observed at the end of the “Perils of Paranoia,” that House is obviously thinking about his father. As season eight progresses, I would like to see this narrative thread come to the fore. House’s parents are such an important part of who he has become, it is a dramatic diamond mine worthy of significant exploration.

And finally, I hope The Powers That Be decide very soon whether this will be House‘s final season. The creative team need time to plan if season eight will be it. Perhaps they already know and just haven’t yet told us. In any event, if this is the end, my biggest wish is that House ends on a high, with a brilliant final run of episodes with a powerhouse series finale.

I still love the series; season eight has been thus far filled with good, well-written, nicely acted episodes. There has been nothing since the season premiere, however, to grab me viscerally and not let go. But the season is young, and 2012 is a new year. And I’m looking forward to the return of Dr. Gregory House and the team when new episodes resume January 23 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

If you want something to ease your House withdrawal, I heartily recommend Jennifer Morrison’s new show Once Upon a Time. Tune in New Year’s Day at 4:00 p.m. ET, when ABC is rebroadcasting the season in advance of its return from hiatus on January 8. It’s a great show, with some excellent writing and terrific performances, especially from Jennifer as Emma Swan, Lana Parrilla (as Snow White’s evil queen), and Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty, Stargate Universe) as Rumpelstiltskin.

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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