“Risky Business” is the perfect title for this week’s House, M.D. The concerns Thad (Michael Nouri), the dying CEO of a manufacturing company about to move his business offshore and across the world, the cheaper labor market of Asia. Thousands of American jobs are at risk. Thad’s daughter insists that her father has reasons other than financial self-interest at stake, but she risks her relationship with him, refusing to be a party to his relocation plan.
House (Hugh Laurie) risks his freedom with on-the-edge-of-legal insider trading scheme, watching his patient’s stock price tumble due to his illness. He buys corporate options dirt cheap on the assumption that he will save Thad, and (if he’s saved) the company’s share price will recover along with the CEO. If he succeeds, House will make a killing and be able to use the profit to fund his seriously underfunded diagnostics department. Clever, eh?
Park’s (Charlyne Yi) status as a doctor is also at risk as she confronts the consequences of punching out her old boss after he grabbed her behind. There’s not a lot House can do to help her, given his current credibility on the medical staff, but what he does in the end is clever and effective.
There is much to like about “Risky Business.” But I cannot shake the feeling that some essential ingredient was missing.
Pushing the character of Dr. Gregory House so close to the edge of unlikeability is a risky business for a series in its eighth season, adding an ironic twist to the episode’s title. Any time the writers make House as unlikeable as they have in this week’s “Risky Business” episode, they risk making him unsympathetic. And when House is so unsympathetic, it’s hard to care about him at all. He becomes a tiresome jerk, not only to his associates, but more significantly, to us. I can probably count on one hand the number of episodes in which House has skated this perilously close to this line: “Whatever it Takes” (season four) and “Fall From Grace” (season seven) are the only ones that come immediately to mind. House’s colleagues practically sigh and roll their eyes with each new encounter in “Risky Business,” from his newest subordinates to new boss Foreman (Omar Epps) and best friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). And that is fine. But that shouldn’t be our reaction (at least not at every turn), and for me, last night, it was.
House has given himself a financial interest in saving the man’s life, at first trying to extort enough money from Thad to re-fund his defunded diagnostics department and he can reclaim his outer office, hire Adams and bring back Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Taub (Peter Jacobson). But this is among the least of what annoys me about House here. (Particularly since he comes up with a more cunning plan.)
It is very much like House to try and squeeze money from a grateful patient. The fact that he would use that money to fund his department rather than to buy a new guitar or motorbike (or go back to Figi) is very House as well. The way in which he ultimately saves Park’s job by barging into her disciplinary hearing is also pure House. Risking himself (because he’d surely tick off Foreman) to help someone else is one of House’s best qualities. And I think the writers are rehabilitating House by having him do stuff like this every episode—under the table and practically invisible. And that’s something I really like about this season. House isn’t overtly trying to be nice.
In “Risky Business,” House is a jerk to everyone, which is no surprise because House is usually a jerk to everyone. But there’s a piling-on effect here. He’s a jerk, he blackmails, he sets up an insider-trading scheme—and on top of all that, he really doesn’t have too many thoughts about the case. Until, that is, the light bulb goes on above his head as he’s about to punch out the orthopedics doc next door.
Granted, it is House’s actions that ultimately save Park’s job, and in the end, as he finally realizes Adams’ story, gives her a way to release her emotions about it. I suspect that extra funding House secured was for the express purpose of buying the orthopedics equipment Adam’s smashes to bits. And those are good things, actions that mitigate House’s behavior—to an extent.
So what’s missing, then? I think the missing ingredient in “Risky Business” is gravitas. At its best, the series blends the comedy (which should be “to taste”) with the serious drama that is the hallmark of the show. And some of that gravitas needs to come from House himself; without it, he’s a caricature of himself. It’s not even necessary to have it part of the dialogue—a look, a glance, a shot of House thinking or struggling with an idea or decision. Park and Adams (and Foreman and Wilson) are certainly serious enough. But House can’t be all merry prankster with the intellectual/serious side completely AWOL. That balancing act has been what’s sustained such an overtly unlikeable character for more than seven seasons. And it’s what distinguishes this show from House pretenders whose creators don’t understand that a funny jerk only goes so far before viewers want to push him off a building. (At least in my opinion.)
Well, no one says I have to love them all, and I look forward to next week’s episode with great anticipation!