Sunday, June 03, 2012
"My standards of fun are not the norm."
I thought I'd drop a few final thoughts that I failed to fit in the main tribute post before I actually listed my 10 favorite episodes, which turned out to be a bear of an assignment — first narrowing the list to 10, then trying to determine rankings. Even in the later, weaker seasons, the show still managed to come up with some winners or — if nothing else — moments and lines that made you feel that your time wasn't completely wasted. I almost could do a list of favorite lines. When I attempted to prune the list, some episodes stayed in the running longer than they otherwise would have simply by virtue of priceless moments. For example, I toyed with including the Season 2 episode "Safe," a good episode about a teen (Michelle Trachtenberg) who had a heart transplant six months earlier, but has been driven nuts by her overprotective mom (Mel Harris) who keeps her in a clean room at home. When her boyfriend sneaks in for some sex, before they even kiss he notices something on he arm and she appears to go into anaphylactic shock. Eventually, she gets worse and gets sent to Princeton-Plainsboro where one theory after another fails and she begins to become paralyzed. House becomes convinced that the boyfriend brought a tick in with him and the bug caused the infection that's paralyzing her, but no one can find it, so Cuddy hslts the search. Wilson says they must get her to ICU. Foreman wheels her into an elevator, though House blocks Cuddy's entrance with his cane. Foreman gives her an injection to buy House three more minutes of tick searching and he locates the nasty bug in her pubic hair — leading to the priceless moment where the elevator doors open and her parents and Cuddy witness House's head rising from between the girl's legs. They obviously think the worst until he shows them the tick. One of my favorite moments, but just not enough for the favorite list. It helps explain why I think Season 2 easily wins the title as the best overall season. The show's most memorable moments could break your heart as well. It didn't make my list either but as far as touching installments go, Season 4's "97 Seconds" about the paraplegic man (Brian Klugman) and his extremely faithful service dog, an English shepherd named Hoover, gets me every time.
House nearly hit a home run with each of the 24 episodes produced for its second season. I easily could have filled all 10 spots on my favorite list from this season alone, but in an attempt to spread the wealth I succeeded in limiting Season 2 episodes on the list to a total of three. That means, in addition to "Safe," I couldn't make room for other great ones such as "The Mistake," where House and Chase face a disciplinary board hearing over a patient's death because Chase got distracted by news of his father's death; "Deception" with guest star Cynthia Nixon as a mentally unstable woman with a difficult-to diagnose ailment that, with Foreman temporarily in charge of the diagnostics department, leads both House and Cameron to play sneaky games to try to prove their diagnoses; "Sex Kills" (another one that came very close to making the final list) with guest star Howard Hesseman as a man in desperate need of a heart transplant but deemed "too old" by the transplant committee to be approved for the procedure, prompting House to go on a scavenger hunt for a freshly dead body that wouldn't be deemed suitable for transplant. When they find a somewhat overweight woman declared brain dead after a car wreck but suffers from another ailment, House vows to cure her so her heart would be safe for transplant. "We're going to cure death?" Cameron asks incredulously. House cackles like a mad scientist before answering normally, "Doubt it." The storyline perfectly blends the pathos of the man who just lost his wife and a daughter worried that her father will die with humorous elements stemming from both storylines that end up running on parallel tracks. On top of that, the episode tosses in one of the funniest clinic episodes with a young man (Adam Busch) who seeks help because he claims he's fallen in love with a cow, though that isn't his whole story. "So I have to wonder what could be more humiliating then someone calling your girlfriend a cow and not being metaphorical?" House asks him. "Sex Kills" would have made a Top 20; Season 2 also includes "Clueless," which I referred to in the first half of the tribute, about the husband with the devoted wife who grows sicker and sicker and that House figures out she's been poisoning him with gold; "All In," where a sick boy shows all the signs of a case that has haunted House for years because of his inability to solve it while he's simultaneously coaching Wilson by phone in a hospital Texas Hold 'Em benefit; "Forever," the tragic tale of a sick woman and her young baby; and "No Reason" where guest star Elias Koteas, the husband of one of House's former patient's, walks into the conference room and shoots him prompting an episode that mixes dreams and reality as they work to save House.
Another aspect of House that worked incredibly well lay in its ability to attract talented and well-known performers to play all levels of parts, whether it be recurring roles such as Sela Ward as Stacy, House's ex-girlfriend and Princeton-Plainsboro's main lawyer whose arc lasted throughout Season 1 and most of Season 2; Chi McBride as Edward Vogler, the billionaire pharmaceutical magnste who becomes chairman of the board of the teaching hospital with promises of a blank check for research only to spend most of his time trying to get rid of House instead; Michael Weston as Lucas Douglas, who starts out as House's goofy private eye and pseudo-friend before he becomes Cuddy's unlikely boyfriend; and David Morse as Michael Tritter, the wrong guy for House to treat the way he usually treats clinic patients as he turns out to be a cop. That incident launches the third season storyline of Tritter pursuing House on drug charges — Tritter acting as Javert to House's Jean Valjean. Tritter even puts the financial and professional squeeze on Wilson and others in an attempt to force them to cooperate and turn against House. In other cases, Oscar nominees (past and future) and even a couple of winners popped up as patients of the week including Shohreh Aghdashloo, Candice Bergen (though as Cuddy's mom she appeared twice when she wasn't a patient), Joel Grey, Taraji P. Henson, Amy Irving, James Earl Jones, Michael O'Keefe, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Renner, Mira Sorvino and David Strathairn. Sometimes, familiar faces would turn up as mere clinic patients such as Peter Graves, Shirley Knight and Carl Reiner. Those names just scratch the surface because — let's be honest — unless you were a super medical diagnostician yourself, most of the terms that House and his team bandied about came off as gobbledy gook. In actuality, each week's case merely served as the episode's MacGuffin and that's why that part of the show grew tiresome the fastest. The same thing that made the regulars stand out and brought us back each week happened to be the trait in the most interesting cases: Less the illness than the characters who suffered from them. If the patient bored us, so did the case. However, even a late episode such as Season 5's "The Social Contract" can score on that level when Jay Karnes (Dutch from The Shield) played Nick Greenwald, a book editor who suddenly loses the ability to prevent himself from saying whatever comes into his mind.
Perhaps I've conditioned my memory to remember it this way, but I believe "House Vs. God" was the first House episode I watched while stuck in the hospital. It proved to be a damn good way to start. Pitting the doctor, whom I would soon discover, served as the most outspoken atheist on primetime television against an ill teenage faith healer named Boyd (Thomas Dekker) made for a natural clash in the teleplay by Doris Egan. To its credit, the show didn't take the easy way out and make Boyd and his father Walter (William Katt) obvious frauds. It also threw in a subplot involving Wilson trying desperately to get in on one of House's home poker games, which leads to the revelation that the good oncologist has been dating one of his cancer patients (Tamara Braun), who becomes involved with Boyd's story. The episode offers a bounty of memorable House lines. I can't recall if the YouTube clip includes either of these two: "You talk to God, you're religious. God talks to you, you're psychotic" or "Isn't it interesting…religious behavior is so close to being crazy that we can't tell them apart." Then, comes the inevitable first meeting between House and Boyd. "So, you're a faith healer. Or is that a pejorative? Do you prefer something like 'divine health management'?" House asks. Of course, it inevitably leads to dialogue between House and his colleagues (Chase, not a murderer at this point, briefly attended seminary, so it's his idea to keep score on case developments on the board).
CHASE: You're gonna talk to a patient?
HOUSE: God talks to him. It'd be arrogant of me to assume that I'm better than God.
WILSON: And that's why religious belief annoys you. Because if the universe operates by abstract rules you can learn them, you can protect yourself. If a Supreme Being exists, he can squash you any time he wants.
HOUSE: He knows where I am.
Robert Sean Leonard gets to wrap the show with a great delivery of Wilson's final line, sighing, "House, you are…as God made you."
If I had to present a legal case proving my assertion that the actors who portrayed the patients of the week were more important to the strength of House than the medical mysteries were, I'd submit John Larroquette and this episode as Exhibit A. Actually, Larroquette's character, Gabe Wozniak, wasn't the patient of the week. The real case involves his son Kyle (Zeb Newman). The episode plays off the running gag that House, to hide out from everyone, tends to have lunch in rooms with coma patients. This time, he throws Wilson — hunting for him after being upset by a visit from Tritter (David Morse) — a curve because he's eating in Gabe's room — and technically he's in a vegetative state, one he's resided in for 10 years. When the team gets stumped for answers about what's causing Kyle's seizures and other problems and Kyle can't provide much in the way of family history, House defies Cuddy's orders and pulls the Awakenings trick of a shot of L-dopa and wakes Gabe up, who sits straight up in bed, longing for a steak. The problem is that Gabe doesn't seem terribly interested in his son's plight, so House makes a deal that takes Gabe, himself and Wilson to Atlantic City in search of a sandwich that Gabe loved and the elder Wozniak agrees to answer one question in exchange for every question that House answers to him. Occasionally, we get cuts back to Princeton-Plainsboro for updates on Kyle, but the trio of Larroquette, Laurie and Leonard make this episode, written by Doris Egan, a true standout. As you'd expect, lots of jokes stem from 10 years of unconsciousness such as when Gabe picks up an iPod and asks, "What's this? It says 'ip od.'" It even manages to wrap up with touching moments that involve not only the episode's storyline, but House and Wilson's relationship as well. The episode also contains many movie references, not just to Awakenings but to The Silence of the Lambs and Sleeper as well.
The most recent episode to make the top 10 lands here simply for giving Robert Sean Leonard an episode that truly focuses on Wilson in a way that no other installment had done before. (For the same reason, the similarly Cuddy-centric "5 to 9" from Season 6 almost made the cut as well.) Written by David Foster and directed by the great Lesli Linka Glatter whose résumé includes standout episodes of other great shows such as Mad Men ("Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency"), Freaks and Geeks ("Kim Kelly Is My Friend," "Boyfriends and Girlfriends") and several episodes of Twin Peaks. "Wilson" tells the story of a former patient, Tucker (Joshua Malina), who developed a friendship with Wilson and takes his former oncologist on an outing each year on the anniversary of being cancer-free. House declares Tucker "a self-important jerk." Wilson insists he's his friend and House forcefully reiterates his description. "Seems to be what I'm attracted to," Wilson replies. While Tucker and Wilson (whom Tucker calls "Jimmy") try hunting, Tucker mysteriously collapses and ends up in Princeton-Plainsboro again. Wilson learns that Tucker left his wife for a younger woman when he mistakes the girlfriend for Tucker's daughter. Wilson experiences what he believes to be a "House" moment when he notices that the girlfriend has a cold sore and diagnoses transverse myelitis. House, barely passing by, tells Wilson it's cancer. Meanwhile, Cuddy asks Wilson if it's OK to call his ex-wife Bonnie about a condo that she and Lucas want to move into together. Wilson calls her on it, saying she's Bonnie's friend and only asked him to test House's reaction. As for Tucker, Wilson's diagnosis wasn't right and, indeed, it was cancer, causing him to try to act more like House, doing a double shot of chemo. House warns him that he can't handle it if it goes wrong the way he could, but Wilson tries anyway and it ends up degrading Tucker's liver to the point he needs an immediate transplant. Tucker, already confirming House's original diagnosis that he's a self-important jerk by bringing his wife and daughter back in his time of need because the young girlfriend can't deal with it, starts blaming Wilson and suggests he donate part of his liver. Even Cuddy tells Wilson he's crazy when he informs her that he plans to do it. "You're a doctor, not a donor," she reminds him. The most touching moment comes when Wilson asks House to be present at the operation and House says no. "What? Why?" Wilson asks. "Because if you die, I'm alone," House replies. In the end, when Tucker turns out OK, he again dumps his wife and brings back the young girlfriend. Wilson finally corrects him when he again calls him Jimmy. "It's James." Then, in the best payoff, Wilson steals the condo out from under Cuddy as a new place for he and House to live. "She hurt my friend. She should be punished," Wilson tells him. "You got mad? I'm proud of you," House says. As the finale showed, the real love story of House occurred between those two men, even if it wasn't sexual.
The most distinctive episode of House in the show's history. They attempted to replicate it with Season 8's "Twenty Vicodin" set entirely with House in prison, but that didn't come close to approaching what the writers, actors and director accomplished here. After House agreed that his hallucinations of Amber might signal a need for a serious time out, he agreed to check himself to the Mayfield Mental Hospital to attempt to free himself of his addiction and his demons. The two-hour season premiere written by Russel Friend, Garret Lerner, David Foster and David Shore, truly allowed Hugh Laurie to shine. While House went willingly, once admitted, his usual desire to be pulling the strings couldn't be stopped right away as he sought to leave almost as soon as he arrived. It wasn't quite that easy if he ever wanted to practice medicine again, explained the hospital's chief psychiatrist, Dr. Darryl Nolan, our first introduction to the character played by the always welcome Andre Braugher. If he didn't sign off, House wouldn't get his license back. The episode, directed by Katie Jacobs, not only placed House in a different setting, but with an entirely different cast of characters, save for one brief phone conversation with Wilson. In addition to Dr. Nolan, he formed a begrudging and unlikely kinship with his hyperactive roommate Alvie, played by Tony Award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (as House tells Alvie, "You're my only friend. And I hate you.") and an attraction to a secretive woman named Lydia (Franka Potente, who first caught attention as the title character in Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run.) The episode really comes alive when it's Laurie and Braugher going at it one-on-one. "Seriously, is that your strategy? Give everybody what they want, except me?" House asks the psychiatrist. "You're a natural leader. You could something useful down here…for them…definitely for you. Or you could keep fighting. If you think you could break me. If you think I'm not every bit as stubborn as you," Nolan responds. It made for quite an interesting start to the sixth season where House made a true attempt at changing his ways, but somewhere it just sort of got lost, which is a shame.
The best of the episodes dealing with House's hallucinations in that the teleplay by Matthew V. Lewis & Liz Friedman manages to blend deftly the humor and seriousness of the situation as House realizes that his imaginary Amber (Anne Dudek, wonderful again) has a side that's more malevolent than the real Amber. Running concurrently, the patient of the week, a deaf high school wrestler, makes a good candidate for a cochlear implant but he'd prefer to stay deaf. "My Patient is opting into a handicap; he's an insult to every other gimp out there," House complains. "I'll blind him too, if he wants to experience that culture." Meanwhile, Chase and Cameron's wedding approaches and Wilson tries to warn Chase not to let House throw him a bachelor party. "The main reason my third wife and I eloped was to avoid House's bachelor party… Have you seen Caligula?" Wilson asks Chase as House approaches, inquiring if Wilson is trying to scare him away from the party. "I took an oath to do no harm," Wilson declares, adding that he won't be attending. "Uh, I'm not going to the bachelor party. Every time I go to one of your parties, I end up embarrassing myself in some new and unexpected way," Wilson insists. House begs to differ. "The thing with the duck was hardly unexpected." After he gives Chase a long speech about how his marriage won't truly mean something without wanton depravity the night before, Chase agrees to go, though he doesn't know that Cameron will be crazy about the idea — so he asks House to make it look as if he's been kidnapped. Imaginary Amber keeps toying with House, trying to get him to remember the name of a stripper from Wilson's party. "Why go back to that well? In the nine years since Wilson's party, a whole new generation of hot girls have been abused by their stepfathers," House tells his hallucination, who also gets him to implant the cochlear implant in the high school wrestler without his permission. He expects Wilson to chastise him, but he sees it as a kind act. However, when Wilson arrives home to finds all his furniture in the yard and the bachelor party being held in his apartment, that doesn't please him as much. Imaginary Amber finally got the name of the stripper dislodged from House's mind, so he hired her for the party and Chase opted to taste her body butter, only she uses strawberry to which Chase is allergic, sending him into anaphylactic shock. They rush Chase to the hospital where they've received word that the wrestler has taken a turn for the worse as well. "I knew about her body butter, and his strawberry allergy. I tried to kill Chase. Why would I do that? I don't want Cameron," House says to Amber. "You're not a big fan of other people's happiness," Amber replies. After he ignores whatever she says to him, he manages to save the wrestler. He then admits to Cuddy that he hasn't slept since Kutner's suicide. That night, he goes home and actually sleeps the whole night. When he wakes the next morning, he thinks he's conquered the hallucinations but when he rolls over, Amber lies next to him grinning.