In the interest of full disclosure, House, MD could be my favorite television show of all time. The combination of pithy, sarcastic humor, witty banter, and grave seriousness match my own twisted personality nearly perfectly, and I can easily watch each episode time and again, one after another, without even remotely suffering from boredom or restlessness.
The show is a masterpiece of design. From the stylish opening credits (to the tune of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”) to the lighting to set design to ambient music throughout, no detail or care is overlooked in creating a wonderful, sleek, and bold package. Producer Bryan Singer (X-Men) spares little expense in setting the mood and tone for the show with every element. It’s television as art in a neat, dramatic, and humorous package.
Of all its six seasons to date, though, none matches the perfection and charm brought forth in its first season, which ran from 2004-2005. The cast for the show remained small and intimate, and the focus more on the show’s primary gimmick — diagnostic forensics — than in future years. Indeed, several of the program’s top episodes all ran during its debut season:
- DNR: a legendary jazz musician (Harry Lennix, Commander Locke from the Matrix Trilogy) loses feeling in his legs and eventually collapses from a lack of oxygen. House (Hugh Laurie) further complicates matters by violating a “Do Not Resuscitate” order to save the patient’s life and risks jail while fighting to determine the cause of the underlying condition.
- Histories: a mentally unstable homeless women, who is favored for some reason by Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), suffers from rabies and is not diagnosed due to complicating factors until it’s too late.
- Control: a young, driven CEO (Sarah Clark, 24’s infamous Nina Myers) takes Ipecac as a means of facilitating bulimia and destroys her heart in the process.
- Role Model: a passionate, charismatic black Senator runs for President but displays symptoms of AIDS, raising issues of trust and honesty with respect to politicians.
- The Socratic Method: a schizophrenic mom is cared for by her struggling 15-year-old son.
Despite the focus on medicine and the individual story, though, great character moments were never at a loss and we as the audience grew to like and respect each of the main cast as if they were old, favored friends: the childish, almost infatuation-like affection Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) has for her boss, the glimpse into Chase’s (Jesse Spencer) paternal issues, and the revelation/”origin” of House as it relates to his condition and relationship with Stacy (Sela Ward).
Of course, the show lives and dies — so to speak — on the performances of Hugh Laurie, who portrays the titular character. Unlike many medical dramas, Laurie nails the unique dynamics of a top-notch physician nearly perfectly. House is arrogant, sarcastic, self-righteous, and critical to a fault. He practices strict atheism (“dying is never dignified”) and, with the literal power of life over death, it’s difficult to not understand just why he and so many other doctors and scientists display those traits. His dry wit in even the most somber of moments often proves genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Above all, though, he is an educator — Princeton Plainsboro is a teaching hospital — and for all of his flaws its clear how brilliant an instructor and illuminator he is (witness his turn in front of a room of young doctors in the Emmy-winning episode “Three Stories.”)
The apex of the season’s main arc involves the hospital’s Chairman of the Board, Edward Vogler (Chi McBride), and the power and influence he wields thanks to his $100 million investment in Princeton Plainsboro. A larger than life figure, Vogler is determined to run his new toy as a strict business and House’s unconventional style and philosophical differences eventually nearly cost himself, Wilson, Cuddy (Lisa Eddelstein), and Cameron their jobs. I won’t lie, watching House bristle in nearly all interactions with his new boss — who neither understands nor appreciates what he brings to the hospital — probably hits any officer worker suffering with a tough job a little close to home (I may or may not resemble that remark). It’s the addition of those little extra and seemingly unnecessary dynamics that make House, MD so deep and rewarding a viewing experience.
It’s also most interesting to watch this arc today, while the United States debates whether or not to publicize the healthcare industry. Just which method is in the long run most accurate: a true laissez-faire focus on profits and helping the most patients possible, or a far more expensive and ethically less dubious focus on the individual, no matter the cost? While House and crew emerge “victorious” in the interest of perpetuating the series, the show provides no clear answers and shows both sides suffer from their own limitations.
I’m no expert on video quality or DVD conversions, so as to the product itself I’ll say that sound and video fidelity appear to be consistent with most modern programs ported over to video, and will likely look and play well on nearly any system. After promoting the package’s bonus features through the first five discs, though, its hard not to find massive fault with what is offered: a few brief “behind-the-scenes” clips that run perhaps twenty minutes in total and do little to provide a closer look into the show, aside from illustrating Laurie’s real-life British accent. This is clearly a DVD set put together merely to provide what it claims to — the complete first season of a top-notch television show — and little more.
So, all in all, House, MD Season One recaps on of the best pure story seasons of any show in broadcast history, albeit it with little flash or style. Buy it for the sheer quality of the episodes, but don’t expect much else. 9 out of 10.