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''House''

By RD Heldenfels Published: October 31, 2005

Hugh Laurie is such a powerful presence on ''House'' that it's sometimes easy to ignore the show around him. And in the early going, I think the show leaned on that idea -- letting the character's appeal carry the day when the plots were not as strong as they should be.


Now, there are times when House almost seems too much for ''House.'' That doesn't mean the character has gotten worse. It means the show has gotten better.


I have seen the episode airing Tuesday night, and the one on Nov. 8, as Fox wants folks like me to remind viewers like you that the World Series is over and the regular programs are back. In tomorrow's episode, there were moments when House seemed a little too jokey, a little too deliberately annoying, as if the balance between anger and humor in the character had been thrown off-kilter.


My mistake. In fact, it turned out that House's extreme behavior was part of a larger point -- to remind us that House is a deeply flawed person. We can at times forgive his bluntness, even his cruelty, because -- to borrow an old phrase from Barry Goldwater -- in our hearts we know he's right. But these two episodes will argue that there are limits to what House can do even when he is right -- and sometimes he isn't remotely right. He is petty, he is capable of jealousy, he really is that angry man.


And while reminding us of that, the show is giving more insight not only into House but into the people around him. In the Nov. 8 episode, you're going to get to see House's parents and find out something about that relationship; but House's dealings with his father also provide a look at his feelings about Cameron, giving that relationship new complexity. In fact, the episode -- called ''Daddy's Boy'' -- is a wrenching consideration of the relationship between fathers and sons (both because of House's parents and because of a patient's case), between lies and truth and between the lies and truth that fathers and sons tell.


The Nov. 1 episode, meanwhile, establishes a character that brings out House's bad side -- which makes me hope we might see more of him. (The episode leaves that possibility open.) It is a good and noble doctor, played by Ron Livingston, who at first seems to designed to put House's limitations in a bad light. He is Lance White to House's Jim Rockford, or Richard Stone to House's Martin Tupper. The new doc is also more complicated than he at first appears, although not so complicated that House comes off as any better a person.


In other words, the show is not taking it easy. I do worry sometimes that we are learning too much about House -- that the more we understand him, the less we fear him, and House's ability to inspire fear is one of the things that makes him so interesting. But when he is not in the middle of things, the show still tells a good story. And those stories make it all the more interesting when House is in the middle of things.

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