Yes, I’m Still Watching…House
February 24th, 2009
I don’t particularly know if I can put my finger on why I care so little about House’s fifth season, considering that I was actually quite a big fan of the fourth one. Although oft criticized for eschewing the show’s regular sidekicks for a new batch, the fourth season felt like things were being shaken up: that the producers realized that the show was in danger of becoming too formulaic, and that some changes were necessary. I like that level of self-awareness in my showrunners, personally, and it was healthy to see it here.
Unfortunately, House has fallen off the wagon for me this season, and I’ll admit right now to having very little desire to even watch last night’s episode, which is waiting for me on the DVR as soon as I get around to it. [I watched it – check for my thoughts in parenthesis throughout the post added after I sat down to watch the episode]. There just isn’t anything about the show that I find engaging, which is because of two fundamental problems: one is the show focus on what is ultimately an uninteresting and worthless character, and the other is that the show’s other drama must derive entirely from relationships, all of which are misguided and doomed to failure if only for the sake of the show’s normal points of tension.
It all adds up to a show that I honestly don’t care about anymore – and there will come a point where I might stop watching altogether in the very near future.
I’m not going to turn this into a protracted rant about Thirteen: I like Olivia Wilde, I think the character was engaging when she was being kept around for being kind of a female version of part of House’s personality, keeping secrets and withdrawing from basic human interactions, but the new doomed to die and romancing Foreman version of this characters is just painful to watch. This is a bisexual doctor with a terminal illness in its early stages, and yet there’s been no episode that has truly dealt with her scenario in a subtle and effective fashion. Instead, it’s been like the character has been given a death wish, a trainwreck that just isn’t interesting to watch.
[This week’s episode, “The Softer Side,” was a better episode for Thirteen: she was actually at certain points taking on the Cameron role of being the doctor who cares about their patients, and the case of the week seemed designed more to play to the character’s strengths than to enlighten the audience on their faults. The show actually did hold her accountable for her actions, forcing the parents to tell him about his male/female genes being as destructive to their relationship as it was, and even though it was all washed away with the patient living it’s the most I’ve tolerated Thirteen in a long time.]
But if the show saw this as a problem, their treatment of her relationship with Foreman solved absolutely nothing. Relationships on House are either doomed to failure or doomed to be almost entirely drama-free – the show is about tension, primarily because House’s methods are all about creating tension, and a relationship either needs to operate outside of this sphere (See: Chase and Cameron) at the expense of being sidelined or get its few weeks in the sun before eventually being subject to the kind of struggles that Foreman and Thirteen have gone through. I would be fine with them staying together if it was of any value to the characters, but they don’t really have any chemistry, and while them putting one over on House could be considered a decent use of the characters the entire arc with the drug trial was hamfisted and drama-free. I just didn’t care: Thirteen is nothing without her mystery, and the show has been so ambivalent towards Foreman that his medical future really isn’t something I’d cry over.
[The episode actually seemed to make light of this relationship: I laughed a great deal at Taub’s Foreman impression, and the entire business of being nervous about House figuring it out was at least something a little less dramatic and a bit more fun. I still think the relationship will be tough to sustain, but this is certainly a more hopeful look at it.]
That’s really the big problem right now: I don’t feel the connection to any of the fellows anymore, and worst of all my connection to House himself is disappearing at a rather alarming rate. This has nothing to do with the work of Hugh Laurie, but rather the writers’ decision to really not give House the kind of material that the character really needs. First and foremost, so much drama amongst his staff has meant that the patients have more often been ciphers for their hangups than they have been foils for House: some of the best House moments are in patient interaction, and we haven’t had a really memorable patient in quite a while.
[I was a big fan of this patient: it felt like a legitimate medical mystery, it created a complicated diagnostic process, and while it followed the linear path that patients always take I thought the various intersections with the other storylines (Thirteen most prominently, but House in the end) were not quite as “cute” as they have been in the past. The child actor, also, was quite easy to relate to, and the idea of normal teenage identity crisis being potentially indistinguishable from actual mental instability is something that would make a diagnostician’s job a lot more difficult]
More importantly though, this relationship with Cuddy is not the direction this character needs to go in. When Stacy came back on the scene, she had only one value: returning House to the time before his injury. Otherwise, she was just there for House to make fun of her, and the moments of them in an actual relationship more or less fell completely flat. It’s for these same reasons that his potential relationship with Cuddy does not work, kiss or no kiss: I think that there is an argument to be made that the two of them could handle a better non-work relationship, but their dynamic is so built on sexual tension and bickering that any attempt to alter that would fundamentally alter the series. When I talk about formulas to avoid, it’s more in the show’s broader attempts at drama than in its small-scale minutia: that’s still working quite well, when it’s there.
[This is one area where the episode takes one step forward and one step back. Episodes that deal with how House deals with his pain are amongst my favourites, but the problem is that they will never last. I liked seeing Wilson and Cuddy shrug off the initial idea that House is not actually okay, but then immediately rush off to make sure he was actually okay, but all of these stories go the same way: House makes a potentially dangerous move to try to get rid of pain, nearly kills himself, and then the rest of the episode is spent rationalizing it. We went through this at the start of Season Three, which was actually quite enjoyable, and to keep going over it will get tired. It also didn’t really work for me because it’s implied at the end that it was all about Cuddy: he was just doing it to see whether or not Cuddy cared enough about his well-being and his happiness to assist him in this potentially dangerous drug treatment, a plan that is the medical equivalent of Juniour High School.]
Which isn’t often: Wilson has become a messenger between Cuddy and House as opposed to a real part of either of their lives, and the show is moving further and further away from the legitimate drama that started this season in the wake of Amber’s death. When recently they returned to Amber, as Wilson was living in her apartment and began to overcome her memory by washing her coffee mug, it felt like the show was paying lip service to something that should have been much more powerful: those are the kind of storylines that the show should be doing more of, not the relative drivel we’ve seen of late, but they don’t seem to get that.
[They definitely haven’t moved into this territory: I’m not saying that one of the fellows needs to die or anything, but these one-off “House is so crazy/drugged/dangerous to himself!” episodes aren’t actually inspiring any sort of new trend for the series.
I like my House one of two ways: emotionally resonant without being trite, and tongue-in-cheek without feeling like a farce. I actually liked the P.I. at the start of the season, and House’s reality show, because it was him having fun at the expense of others: not, at this point, it’s just the show indulging silly drama at the expense of the viewing audience.
[I think that “The Softer Side” did a better job of balancing the emotional with the entertaining, which is really what the show needs to do – I just wish the broader storylines showed enough promise that I’d be convinced they could keep it up for the rest of the season.]
- I feel for the worst for Kal Penn’s Kutner in this whole scenario: Taub at least has a wife and an occasional look into his homelife, whereas Kutner doesn’t have a storyline at all. I’m waiting for the secret reveal that he’s gay or something, just because the writers realized they need to do something with him to justify his salary.
- Cuddy’s baby has been one of those storylines that you know is going to fall by the wayside: while I understand the point, the procedural nature of the show is never going to let Lisa Edelstein become a real player, so the baby will eventually become a nanny-raised child and Cuddy will go back to being normal. [All we got in the episode on this front was that Cuddy now seems particularly more involved in cases involving parenthood and children – baby went unmentioned.]