House S8 E1 “Twenty Vicodin”

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So, Dr Gregory House is back for an eighth season. Has he got the legs (or leg, perhaps) to last another full year at the top of the TV tree?

The opening episode picks up on the events at the end of season seven, which means that House has been locked up in jail. In the way that the episode places the character into a completely new and unfamiliar setting (and also to forego any of the regular cast except Hugh Laurie as the eponymous medic) it’s reminiscent of the double-length episode that started season 6, “Broken”, in which House was under psychiatric care.

I still regard that particular story as the finest two hours of drama the show has ever produced. It was practically “House – The Motion Picture” and deserved a cinematic release in its own right. But this jail redux suffers by being (a) in the shadow of that previous format-breaking story; (b) only being a regular hour-long episode; and (c) being set in a jail, which is a much more well-worn dramatic locale for TV and film. Consequently we recognise the story tropes and character types from the get-go. It’s less of a surprise and less original than “Broken”, and then when it doesn’t result in much in the way of significant change for the character of House himself by the end of it we’re left with a sense of ground previously trodden.

Which is not to say that it’s bad. At all. On the contrary, it’s very well done. Laurie is as superb as ever: his character is charismatic and compelling while simultaneously also being pitiful and broken, and yet rather than being an overblown cartoon cliché after so many years (as Hannibal Lector quickly became, for example) he’s also completely believable and human. It’s always great to see Jude Ciccolella in any role (here as the jail hard man), and truly surprising to see Michael Massee (usually the psycho serial killer in shows like 24, FlashForward and Rizzoli and Isles) get to play so successfully against established type as the quiet, decent chess-playing old lag looking out for House. There’s also a nice turn from Thom Barry, former cast regular on Cold Case, as the prison doctor with whom the ace diagnostician inevitably clashes.

Given the lack of the regular cast here in this episode, the biggest point of interest is arguably Odette Annable as the prison intern Dr Adams. She’s instantly an interesting character – perhaps the first time we (or House) have come across a future sidekick who seems so fully cut from House’s own cloth. The way Laurie lights up his eyes as he watches Adams keep up and even skim ahead of his own process is quite wonderful – and also slightly disturbing, as you can’t help but think that we’re watching House falling in love with all the worst aspects of his own personality right there on the spot.

It’s a good, solid start to the eighth season of this top-rated show, if not anything like as boldly ambitious or creative as its season 6 equivalent. It suggests that this should be another perfectly strong season. But whether it gets to the end of another 22 shows with enough steam to warrant continuing any further into a ninth year remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing how the show talks its way back to the ‘normal’ show format and remaining regular supporting cast next week, without jumping the shark’s fin of believability.

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