House and his team have a case with a 29-year-old kindergarten teacher who collapses at school after losing the ability to talk properly. (Clinic Cases: An orange man with leg pain, a young boy with asthma, a man who thinks he has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or fibromyalgia.) Written by
Is it really possible to replicate CSI's case-of-the-week structure inside a hospital setting à la ER? David Shore believed it to be no problem at all. In fact, he threw a little Sherlock Holmes into the mix as well as basis for the main character, and along came House M.D., one of the most intelligent postmodern serials of the 21st century.
Much like the pilot of CSI, the series starts with no need to introduce the various characters and explain the motivation. Instead, we get a teaser where a school teacher (Robin Tunney) starts speaking gibberish before having a seizure, and only then are we allowed to get our first glimpse of Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), head of the Diagnostics Department at Princeton Plainsboro Hospital in New Jersey. At first sight, one would never guess he's a doctor, and not just because he refuses to wear a lab coat: he's rude, acerbic and refuses to shave, plus he walks with a cane because of chronic leg pain to which he responds with far too many pills. In addition, he diagnoses patients without ever seeing them, since he believes total detachment is necessary to crack the "case".
Not that he does any of this alone: he has a team of assistants, which includes neurologist Eric Foreman (Omar Epps), immunologist Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) and Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer). Apart from being regularly insulted by their boss, they run all the tests and occasionally break into people's homes to find out what might be wrong. Not exactly part of the team, but important nonetheless, are oncologist James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), House's best (and only?) friend, and Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), the misanthropic physician's boss.
This opening episode is a practically perfect combination of three separate efforts (the only defect is the purple-ish cinematography that doesn't occur in the rest of the show): firstly, there's Shore's script, which manages to do to medicine what Aaron Sorkin did to politics, namely make the subject interesting with the assistance of fast-paced, smart dialogue and none of the sloppy sentimentality that characterizes Grey's Anatomy; then there's the director (and executive producer) Bryan Singer, who took a break from superhero films to concentrate on a smaller, character-driven mini-movie, albeit one where his familiarity with special effects does come in handy sometimes (one sequence in particular, where the mysterious disease is headed towards the patient's brain, reminds of the opening credits of the first X-Men).
And last but not least, there's the essential ingredient of quality TV: a good ensemble cast. Everyone pulls it off admirably, with a special mention for Leonard who hadn't been in anything this relevant since Dead Poets Society, but in every scene it is clear that House would only be half as good as it is if it weren't for Laurie, who does the best job of his career: throwing away the flamboyant insanity of his British television roles (Blackadder etc), he nails the required American accent perfectly and infuses his postmodern Holmes-like role with a healthy does of sarcasm that goes along well with the cynical seriousness, most notably when he quotes the "philosopher" Jagger: "You can't always get what you want". A neat summation of his view on life, and one of the countless reasons to watch the show.
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