Friday, April 25, 2008

Sophie's Choice in House's World

Maureen Ryan has a great interview with House creator David Shore, including a feature article and transcript. I love her House coverage. She geeks out over the same things I do (e.g., the philosophical underpinnings of the show, the character of House, and the House/Wilson dynamic) and is less interested in the elements I don't expend must energy on either (e.g., the ducklings). And she's clearly a fan of Hugh Laurie, but not in that borderline creepy way that would cause her to be included in the class action restraining order the man seems to need.

Her blog package of House goodness includes a sidebar on who should stay and who should go, which brought to mind a recent blog post by Jaime Weinman of Macleans about TV characters who get left in the dust. My first thought ended up being the example he brings up first (Moira Kelly on The West Wing), but my second thought was Chase and Cameron. Don't get me wrong: their irrelevance to season four doesn't bother me like it does some fans. Nearing the end of the season, I still feel the same way about the cast shakeup as I did near the beginning: I think it was a brilliant way to stave off staleness in a series often accused of being formulaic.

What I appreciate most about the story arc that began with House's old team quitting and hasn't yet ended is ... it hasn't yet ended. The show is notorious (at least in my mind, where notoriety is perhaps not that hard to come by) for story arcs that leave the world of the show in exactly the same place as it was before. You could lift the Vogler, Tritter, and Stacy storylines out of your DVD sets, watch only the episodes that surrounded them, and feel no gap in character development or plot.

This is one shakeup that doesn't feel like a reset button has been set, yet one that was skillfully done so as not to alter the DNA of the show. Truthfully, I think the show could swap House's team every season without damaging the fundamental DNA of the show. The series is built around House, and every other character exists to illuminate his character. I can't remember who said this -- David Shore? Katie Jacobs? -- but House is the hub and the other characters are spokes. In creating this brilliant lead character, the show has sacrificed something of its secondary character development. That doesn't bother me in the slightest: for me, as for the show, it's all about House.

So Maureen Ryan's "should they stay or should they go list" has only two must-stays for me (assuming House is a given, unlike what Hugh Laurie apparently thinks): Wilson and Cuddy. Wilson is irreplaceable, period. They can't credibly go the "new best friend" route and losing that relationship would be a huge loss to the series. Lisa Edelstein turns an often-thankless role (voice of reason and authority and source of much eye-rolling) into a crackling battle of wits with her employee least likely to make employee of the year, making her my other indispensable character.

Chase and Cameron: Go. I think Jesse Spencer and Jennifer Morrison have always been the weakest acting links on the show, their characters have been reduced to irrelevancy now, and any screen time for them means less screen time for the remaining characters who have a reason to be onscreen. The only hope for them is to be re-integrated into House's team, which would mean hitting the reset button on this story arc too, which for me would be a sad cop-out.

Foreman: Like Ryan, I could go either way on him. He's been given a role on House's team, which means he's not being shoehorned into scenes like the other two. But so far he's not adding much either. I'm big on reducing clutter so I'll say go, and hope I regret that if he starts to shine later.

Taub: I'm equally on the fence about him. He was the one candidate who never stood out for me -- I kept forgetting his existence -- until we got the episode featuring the explanation for why he left his plastic surgery practice. Since getting one of the three duckling slots, I've been equally lukewarm on him again, though ... until the last pre-strike episode, "Don't Ever Change," when his attitude adjustment about the Hasidic couple was a highlight of a fine episode. He's got an understated strength I like that's a nice counterpoint to House, but so far it's too understated, and I still forget his existence sometimes. Still, I'll say stay, since I'm intrigued enough to see what they'll do with him.

Amber: I was probably in the minority in that I wanted Amber to stick around from the beginning. But I get what Shore says in Ryan's interview, too: "I think largely that came down to, we’ve got one House. We could have fun with that parallel, but it’s also in some ways limiting." Keeping her around as Wilson's girlfriend is fine by me though.

Thirteen: You know what, I'm not inclined this way, but Olivia Wilde is a gorgeous woman and I don't mind a little female eye candy around for House to snack on. I don't see the flirtation between them that other fans seem to. I like that he appreciates her visually, is intrigued by her personally, but their relationship isn't plagued by the "do you like me" cringe-worthiness that tainted the House/Cameron one. Her enigma came unwrapped fairly quickly, but I'll trust for now that there's more to explore. So she can stay.

Kutner: Stay. Yes, I'm swayed a little by the desire for some more male eye candy, and Kal Penn is adorable and likeable. His inept success was the character's initial goofy charm for me -- setting a patient on fire while saving her life, for example -- though he's mellowed into simply goofy lately, but I have high hopes for more comic relief to come, as well as Penn's moment to show his dramatic acting chops.

So I end up wanting to get rid of House's entire old team and keeping the entire new one, plus Amber. It's not that I hated the old team, or love the new one so much more, so much as seeing House pick apart his new science projects is more entertaining than the same old, same old with the old ones. Plus the changeover makes more sense than having supposedly smart doctors stuck in a never-ending fellowship, or keeping characters who have nothing meaningful to do and who spread too thin the already-thin secondary character screentime. It's easy to forget that we haven't seen the new team coalesce much in the strike-shortened season, but I'm still intrigued enough by the newbies and bored enough by the oldies to think the swap is a good one.

Monday is the first new House after the writers strike, and the clip below makes me think I have to retract Dr. House's honorary Canadian designation, since he's again hilariously denigrating our nationality:


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