After the jump is the column I wrote for the Beacon Journal's Channels supplement, which does not appear to have made it to Ohio.com. (Since this often happens, I am probably neglecting some coding thing.) I can't say I am enthusiastic about the way the show is in its first two episodes, which are often downbeat. But neither am I pessimistic. At the end of the column, I called the start "fairly promising." I might also have admitted to "wary optimism." Anyway, the text is after the jump, and spoiler-free.
Things aren't getting any easier for Gregory House.
When "House" begins its fifth season on Fox at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the irascible doctor played by Hugh Laurie is still dealing with challenging cases and mystery illnesses. But he also has personal issues to address, especially how to reconcile with his longtime friend and colleague James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).
The end of the fourth season saw the death of Amber (Anne Dudek), a former associate of House's who had begun a romantic relationship with Wilson. The impact of that relationship on House had created its own strains on the House-Wilson friendship. But when Amber not only died, but did so in a situation that made House at least partly responsible, it turned strains into gigantic cracks and fissures.
The season premiere and second episode next week offer an effective reminder not only of how House and Wilson were friends, but also of the way they helped each other professionally. It also makes clear, without getting into details here, that the death of a loved one cannot be put aside -- not if you want to offer audiences more than dramatic convenience.
But the season premiere continues an element of the show from previous years. As much as some people may tune in for the medical adventures, others are drawn to House as a personality. And "House" works very hard at keeping him from becoming stagnant, just a weekly collection of remarks both bitter and snide.
Last season, it shook things up by giving House a new team of associates. That worked to some degree, particularly with Amber, but the show's makers have reportedly admitted that they did not do well at keeping House's original team in the mix.
The original players do get more screen time in the early oing this season. And the newer doctors are no longer novelties; they have settled into their roles and now have their own history with House.
But the current turn in the story is most effective because it gives Hugh Laurie something to do.
It is clear at this point that Laurie could play House's quirks while standing on his head. He may even have done so. But that's no challenge for a show's writers (unless they like repeating themselves), or its star. The results may have been mixed, but "House" works very hard at keeping things interesting for its makers and its audience. And it's off to a fairly promising start.