Season Premiere review — House, “Twenty Vicodin”

House is pretty much out of ideas at this point. The series spent the majority of last season focusing on the House-Cuddy relationship, a decision that made half the audience swoon and the other half vomit. I was somewhere in the middle on Huddy, but it always sort of felt like if the series was going to that story, things would be coming to an end. Despite last season’s solid ending and despite the fact that Lisa Edelstein is no longer a part of the cast, House is back for an eighth (and surely final) season. But just because Hugh Laurie is still willing to get paid doesn’t mean David Shore and his team of writers have any good ideas to build around Mr. Laurie.

Unsurprisingly, the season premiere “Twenty Vicodin” doesn’t do enough to convince me of the series’ vitality or lack thereof. Of course, the whole conception of this episode suggests bad things. After House drove his car through Cuddy’s dining in the season seven finale, fans (read: Cuddy fans who were up in arms about Edelstein’s departure) took the interwebs to complain about how House’s actions were unforgivable. David Shore, ever stuffy and unaware of his audience, claimed that he didn’t necessarily agree with or see the fans’ viewpoint. Cut to three months later and the announcement that the episode would take place in prison where House was paying for, you guessed it, driving through Cuddy’s dining room. So basically, David Shore incredulously responded to fan complaints and then subverted his personal vision so that he could put his character in a gimmicky position to start the next season. That sure sounds like a series with a lot of life left, doesn’t it?

And of course, watching House in prison is basically exactly what you would think it would be: He causes some trouble, ponders why he is the way he is and saves an inmate. If you’ve seen more than two episodes of House and then I told you to picture an episode where the lead is stuck in prison, “Twenty Vicodin” would be it. This effort doesn’t provide any major change-up outside of the new female doctor played by Odette Annable and also doesn’t end on a satisfying note. But House has been relying on the same formula for nearly a decade, so expecting them to mix it up when the temporary setting changes is probably wishful thinking.

Moreover, This episode is too distracted with the obvious beats available to it because of the setting (prison bullies, bunkmate hijinks) and the case of the week to really focus on why House decided to defend himself in court or why he decided to change his disposition from this past spring in the finale (where he was fairly satisfied with himself) and that is supremely unfortunate. I don’t quite understand why House is suddenly remorseful for the things he did nor am I entirely sure if that is actually the case – things are simply too vague when they desperately need to be specific.

However, what the script doesn’t provide, Hugh Laurie makes up for with his performance. This one isn’t as showy or complex as the two-hour movie-like journey the character took while in the mental hospital in “Broken,” but Laurie still brings a complicated depth to a man who has truly been through a ridiculous amount of drama. You can really feel the wear and tear on House’s face and psyche and even though there’s a dumb distraction about House becoming a physicist, you can see the energy in his step when working on the medicine.

Theoretically, I am at least moderately interested in watching a season of stories about House trying to rebuild his life and his relationships, particularly his relationship with medicine. In the year since he made the wild decision to drive through Cuddy’s dining room, I would think that things have changed dramatically at Princeton Plainsboro. We know that Cuddy will be gone and have to assume that A.) Foreman is now in charge of the department and Wilson is very pissed with House actions that could have hurt someone Wilson cares for deeply. A disenfranchised House slowly re-discovering his love for medicine and rhetorical ethical discourse while coming to grips with the fact that he’s pretty much always going to be alone could return the character and the series to its earlier roots and that would be kind of awesome.

However, I don’t trust David Shore and his team to actually provide any of that. We’ve seen how the series handles a fissure in the House-Wilson relationship (very poorly) and we’ve also seen how the series tackles House coming back to work after a long time away to find Foreman in charge (just as poorly). House has a number of fantastic ideas over the years, but execution is almost always sloppy, rushed and eventually disregarded so that things can return to a general equilibrium. I understand why those things happen. Nevertheless, after years of false change and white-washed consequences, I would like to think that the production team would like to actually make some of this matter in what is and should be the final season. The writers clearly don’t really want House to change and this is the perfect opportunity to embrace that. Spend 22 episodes showing us exactly how he hasn’t changed and how that’s actually OK. Stop jerking him and us around. Hugh Laurie deserves better.

Other thoughts:

  • The comparisons to “Broken” are inevitable and this episode is inferior to that one in every single way. Not only is “Twenty Vicodin” too focused on the typical medical mystery, but it fails to develop much of an atmosphere or sense of pace or place. This feels too much like a regular episode of House, which only further highlights how much of a gimmick it is. The bleak color palette is probably the strongest aesthetic element, but “Broken” did that better as well.
  • Odette Annable is going to be just fine as the new female doctor. I’m very disappointed that Thirteen isn’t going to be around anymore, but Olivia Wilde is too famous to play the fourth lead on an old medical drama. I get it. Annable isn’t given a whole lot to do in this premiere episode, however, I think she’ll fit in nicely because the character isn’t as damaged as the previous female team-members. She seems pretty normal. For now.
  • So Wilson is definitely in charge of the whole hospital now right? The writers wouldn’t be stupid enough to give the dean position to Chase would they? He killed a guy.

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