House – season six

Very few people these days, it seems, aren’t at least familiar with House. It seems to be one of those magical shows which appeals to almost everyone in some part or other. But for those of you who’ve been living in a cave for the last half a decade, I’ll enlighten you. House is an American medical drama show, starring Hugh Laurie as the titular gruff, cantankerous, medical genius, Dr Gregory House, who specialises in solving the ‘unsolvable’ patient cases.

The anatomy of a typical episode beings with the patient first falling ill, before House and his team of cronies get to work diagnosing. Said diagnosis takes the whole of the episode, and features several incorrect diagnoses which make the poor patient worse, House playing games with and mocking his employees, House making life difficult for his own boss, and House having at least one ‘deep’ discussion with his emotional best friend Wilson.

It sounds fairly basic, but there’s a magic particularly to Laurie’s acting. He portrays House as an abrasive, but fundamentally likeable character with his own flaws to check his genius. A man whose addiction to prescribed drugs for a crippling leg injury both drives and limits him as a person. And his American accent is perfect – it’s hard to believe this is the same person who played George in Blackadder, or who starred opposite Stephen Fry in Jeeves and Wooster.

Before I start on season six, we need a little background. The end of season five saw House finally spiralling out of control, as the combination of a personal tragedy and his drug addiction drove him over the edge. This culminated in a rather imaginative episode in which House declares his love for his boss, Lisa Cuddy, and finally gets clean of drugs. In actuality, he’s gone on a drug binge, and hallucinated large parts of the episode. The season then closes with loyal Wilson driving his broken friend to a psychiatric hospital, which is where season six begins…

Now, anyone who follows House knows that we’ve seen the ‘House detoxing’ episode several times before, so I initially worried that we’d be treading that same familiar ground again. But to my relief, the writers seemed to recognise the dangers, and treated us to an actually quite impressive montage sequence of our hero’s painful detox. I’m undecided as to whether putting Radiohead on the soundtrack is a bit much, but it’s effective.

After the first two episodes, however, we’re back to the usual diagnosis routine, but with a slightly different feel from previous seasons. The maverick doctor is clean of drugs, and attempting to deal with his own personal neurosis in a manner which seems as socially contentious as his attitude in previous series. This season, more than the others, is about relationships. With House now living with Wilson, we get to witness more of their dysfunctional friendship than ever before. This includes an amusing comment on the homoerotic overtones between them, and a few genuine acts of friendship from both of them.

Aside from that, there’s an unusual focus on the relationships of House’s team. After House’s breakdown-induced absence from the hospital, the team of minions remains in flux after various people leave, and so there is one episode in the first half of the season where it feels like we’ve gone back in time to 2004, as the original trio sits soaking up House’s abuse.

But that’s over as quickly as it begins, in a fairly close to unbelievable plotline involving Chase and Cameron’s relationship, and so-thin-they-needn’t-have-bothered analogy for Robert Mugabe. In the other relationship stakes, Foreman’s relationship with ‘Thirteen’ runs into trouble for no other reason than he’s a moron, Taub continues to deal with fallout of an affair that happened long before he ever joined the show, and Wilson continues his long run of poor life decisions.

Of course, I’m skimming over the most important relationship, which is naturally that between Cuddy and House. After House’s realisation of his feelings for her in the finale of season five, it was always going to be the overwhelming focus of this season, and naturally House is still too much of an ass for things to go smoothly. I won’t ruin it by telling you what happens in the end between them, but don’t expect it to be resolved until the very last moment of the season.

Overall, I did enjoy this season. It’s hard not to, really. But there was a feeling that at six seasons the principle idea behind it is becoming a little strained. Given that the focus and driving force is the bad-tempered, selfish, drug-addicted, title character, it was a bold move to attempt a complete character reconstruction, and could have brought the whole season crashing down.

It didn’t, but the shift in focus is notable. The divide has always been between the medicine and House’s personality, but the medicine has taken something of a back seat. Of course, when it is at the forefront, it doesn’t shy away from the heavy issues. The morality, euthanasia and murder all come under consideration, and of course, as always “everybody lies.”

My overwhelming impression of season six was one of uncertain steps into something new. The series, which has always been one of my favourite TV shows from across the Atlantic, seems to be growing up. It’s moving outside its comfort zone, trying to expand on the characters. It’s a shame that it feels a little soapy at times, but by the end of the season I did feel that it was a positive development. Rather than being a poster stereotype, Gregory House seems to be well on his way to being the most complete character on television.