With the House, M.D. season eight premiere “Twenty Vicodin” now less than a week away, series creator David Shore and the show’s newest cast member Odette Annable met with television journalists and bloggers on a conference call to discuss the premiere and upcoming season. Beware, spoilerphobes! There are a few spoilers sprinkled throughout, and a “First Look” at season eight video courtesy of FOX Programming on the last page.
Annable is the House cast’s newest member, introduced to viewers in “Twenty Vicodin.” Annable plays Doctor Jessica Adams, a young and very bright prison doctor whom House (Hugh Laurie) meets during the premiere. The newest series regular admits to being a bit nervous joining the well established cast, she was quickly put at ease, particularly by the series star. Noting Hugh Laurie’s generosity as an actor, Annable said, “he really blew me away.”
As you might remember, Dr. Gregory House was last seen walking down a tropical beach after ramming his car into Lisa Cuddy’s (Lisa Edelstein) dining room in last season’s finale “Moving On.” We find him at the start of season eight serving a (not-so-trivial) prison sentence for his actions.
The season premiere takes place at the New Jersey prison, many months into House’s sentence, picking up as he is up for an early parole. Shore noted that they didn’t want to trivialize House’s behavior in “Moving On.” They “We wanted him to be appropriately punished, but didn’t want to do a prison show. We had a bit of a dilemma.” So the solution was to leap ahead months into House’s prison.
“Twenty Vicodin” explores the a growing relationship between House and the inexperienced but very sharp young Doctor Adams. Ready to give up medicine when he is released, House finds himself slowly drawn into the mystery of another prisoner’s symptoms. Adams is equally drawn toward House’s orbit—and, perhaps, a bit under his influence. As Annable noted, “they help each other” over the course of the episode.
Shore explained that the biggest challenge in the premiere is that House is in prison—and he has to behave himself, which for House isn’t so easy. While a year in prison hasn’t quite broken him, House does seem a bit whipped (although his snark muscle hasn’t completely atrophied). As tough as House likes to project himself to be, it’s pretty easy to physically overpower him, and as he has to really behave himself, we see him bit more passive than the aggressive guy to which we’re accustomed. It’s an fascinating dynamic, observing House, where his reputation as a medical miracle man does him no good. He’s adapted to prison life (in his own way) after so many months, but it’s also interesting to see House struggle with trying to conform to the expectations an unfamiliar power structure; the inmates—and the prison system—are so much higher in the pecking order.
Shore assured viewers that House will soon be back in his more familiar environment. But he has been away a long time, after all, Shore explained, and that, too will present problems for him. Everyone in House’s universe has gotten on with their lives—for the many months of his absence.
House gets out of prison early in episode two. However, Shore revealed, the second episode, like the first, leaps forward in time. And when he returns to his old, “revised” world he will find it much changed. “The first episode takes place months after the end of last season, and then the next episode takes place a decent amount of time after the first episode.”
Does prison permanently change the stubborn, manipulative, and sometimes arrogant House? Shore reminded us of one of the show’s signature mantras, “Nobody changes.”
“House,” noted Shore is “about a guy who’s striving to change and failing – for the most part and that that is human nature. It’s really about the striving to be different.” So, the series creator explained, “You’re not going to see a different House this year. On a very fundamental level I don’t want to do that. I like him. I think the audience likes him.”
Although prison may not have fundamentally altered the essential Dr. Gregory House, changes are all around him. “Everything’s changed for him,” explained Shore. In previous seasons, the writers alter something in House’s universe, presenting new obstacles and challenges. (In season two it is Stacy’s return; season three, it’s the promise of the ketamine treatment; season four starts with House’s original team gone; season five with the death—and its implications—of Amber Volakis; season six, the aftermath of his mental breakdown; and season seven—his relationship with Dr. Cuddy.)
Shore noted that this season everything’s different for House. “We are going to bring back House to his old world.” But the dynamics are different; everybody’s moved on and “he’s got to get back to a place where he feels comfortable.”
Perhaps the most profound changes in for House are Cuddy’s absence—and his newly chilly relationship with his best friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Cuddy is completely gone from House’s life at this point; actress Lisa Edelstein left the series at the end of last season. Shore expressed his sadness about Edelstein’s departure, adding, “I miss her personally; I miss her as a writer.” But, he noted challenges like Cuddy’s loss present new opportunities.
As far as his relationship with Wilson, Shore explained that House will have to win him back, suggesting, perhaps that it won’t be easy. However, he added—giving us a big spoiler (not)—they do, indeed, get back together. Apparently, Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) will also be leaving Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Shore stated that her “goodbye” episode has already been shot.
One thing in House’s life that hasn’t changed is his love affair with Vicodin. Shore wrote him as an addict from the first episode, he said. And “that has been both a practical and dramatic challenge since day one.” Shore believes that they’ve dealt with the addiction honestly. “He is an addict; that is a problem.” But making your central character a Vicodin addict also presents a practical problem for the series. Shore explained that no one wants to watch an addict deal with his addiction episode after episode. And, although the addiction issue is explored again in season eight, it’s not at the center of the series as it moves forward into the early part of the season.
One of the biggest questions on many House watchers’ minds is whether this will be the last season for the show. It’s been widely speculated in the media that season eight will be last. Definitely not putting the speculation to rest, Shore said that at this point, not even he knows the answer to that question, although it’s certainly a possibility.
Thinking about the inevitability of the series end (whether after season eight, nine or ten), Shore reflected that it’s sad to think about it. But, he added, that it is beyond what he ever imagined to have been able to write House (and House). “I have been extremely lucky as a writer to have been able to explore this character for one year never mind eight,” he said.
House’s creator has taken a less prominent role these past several seasons in writing original episodes, noting that each story takes too much research for him to write from scratch these days. But, he added, his hand is present in every script. “I rewrite every script to a greater or lesser extent, and I’ve been quite happy in that role.” However, if this is indeed the final season, Shore speculated that he “may well write” the final installment of the series.
The House, M.D. season premiere airs Monday, October 3 at a new time: 9:00 p.m. ET/8:00 CT. Please join me following the East Coast airing for a live chat to discuss “Twenty Vicodin” and the rest of the season to come!