In 10 Words or Less
Like "Quincy" meets "C.S.I." in the "E.R."
Loves: a smart TV show
Likes: Bryan Singer, Hugh Laurie
Hates: needles, non-anamorphic widescreen transfers
As a massive fan of "C.S.I.," I eagerly ate up each new variation of the show. While "C.S.I.:NY" didn't quite do it for me the way Las Vegas did, the newest version, "C.S.I.:ER" is fantastic. The concept of having the CSIs solve the crimes before the victim is even dead is a great twist on the series' premise. I just wonder why they keep calling it "House, M.D." instead of "C.S.I." Have to get Sara Sidle working on that mystery...
All kidding aside, "House" is a brilliant mystery show that, after one season, is already ahead of where "C.S.I." was when it started. But whereas Gil Grissom's group works something of a revenge/avenge angle in solving the mystery on behalf of the victim (or their loved ones), doctor Gregory House (Hugh Laurie, "Blackadder") and his staff of diagnosticians are striving to prevent a death by solving the mysteries behind an assortment of rare illnesses. Because of that, the drama of "House" is much higher than that of "C.S.I." No one's going to save a victim's life, but a patient lies in the balance in every case.
Brought to life by Bryan Singer (X-Men) and David Shore ("Law & Order"), House can be described as something like Grissom without the heart, but with more humor and a love of "General Hospital." He has no bedside manner, would rather not ever talk to a patient (or anyone else for that matter) and has a severe problem with authority. He's also got a few flaws. First, and most obvious is a permanent limp thanks to a blood clot in his leg, an injury that's left him addicted to pain killers. It's rare that your hero is a pill-popper, but House more than makes up for his weaknesses with a brilliant mind that rarely views problems from the traditional point of view.
His team, made up of an Aussie hunk, a street-smart doctor with a criminal record and elite test scores and a beautiful woman who desires to be taken seriously, takes on the obscure medical cases other doctors can't solve, from a young lacrosse player suffering from night terrors to a guy who loses consciousness after rough sex. The cures often follow a formula, as one cure leads to a worse problem, which leads to another diagnosis, more trouble and then a miraculous solution that comes out of nowhere. These machina ex deus plot solutions make for good TV, but kind of kill the realism of the show. But no one complains about it when it comes to "C.S.I.", so why start now?
Outside of the cases, there's plenty of drama in the hospital, as House's abrasive nature rubs many the wrong way including his team. But Dr. Lisa Cuddy, the hospital's chief administrator, is his main nemesis. She just wants him to play by the rules, and he finds ways to bend them. She helps bring the show's main comedy relief, as she forces him to "serve time" in the hospital clinic, where he deals with much less serious cases, but with the same attitude. Frequently, these scenes steal the show, but never subtract from the main storyline.
Of course, if every episode followed the same storyline of House versus Cuddy and House's team versus disease, with House's wit coming through as invulnerable, it would get boring. So House was given a formidable opponent in Edward Vogler (Chi McBride, "Boston Public"), a billionaire donor who takes over as the hospital's chairman of the board. He doesn't exactly get along with House, and is the only person with the power to go head to head with him. In his time on the show, McBride changed the dynamic of the series, and kept the momentum of the series flowing.
While the storylines and writing are top-notch, Laurie is what makes the show special. As House, he makes the grumpy doctor character into an anti-hero that viewers can side with. Though he isn't exactly warm and fuzzy, there's definitely a good soul inside him, one that hides beneath the verbal barbs, and Laurie is able to show that kind of complexity with ease that makes his Emmy nomination more than well-deserved.
Just as Grissom says "The evidence tells the truth," House feels everyone lies, especially patients and doctors, and only the diseases tell the truth. Because of that, this show is one of the more honest depictions of medicine on TV, despite the melodrama.
The 22 40-minute first-season episodes of "House, M.D." are spread across six sides of three flipper DVDs, with the sixth side also holding the extras. The discs come wrapped-up in a somewhat blah slipcovered digipack package that's embossed and spot-coated. The main menu is a static, anamorphic widescreen (more on that later) effort, with options to play all the episodes, view an episode index, check out the bonus features (which is actually just a tease to tell you to see Disc Three, Side B) and adjust the languages.
The episode index allows you to select from the listed episodes (with still previews) before taking you to a summary (complete with air date.) The summary screen offers the choice of scene selections (with still previews and titles for each) and language options. There are no language options or closed captioning, but the discs do have English captions and Spanish subtitles.
A little note... there's been some concern about the music on the show being replaced. As far as I can tell, it all seems to be in place (i.e. the big The Who music moment in House's office is there). If I find any problems as I rewatch, I will not them here. - updated 8/17/05
Now's when I'd like to have a needle. Universal takes a perfectly beautiful widescreen show like "House, M.D.", a show with episodes shot by Bryan Singer himself, and they present it in letterbox widescreen. Thanks for nothing. The menus, static promo shots with options slapped on them, get anamorphic treatment, but the show? The show gets to take up a bunch of my screen with black bars and stretched out images. Glad I spent the money on the good TV, so Universal could hand me crap. Their biggest sin is in promoting the release as anamorphic, getting fans' hopes up for nothing.
If you're one of those lucky folks with a square TV, you'll love the widescreen images, as the picture is crystal clear and colorful. The special effects shots are outstanding, without any evidence of digital artifacts, while the show as a whole has a wonderful look to it, without a speck of trouble in terms of dirt, damage or pixilization. The level of detail achieved on this DVD is great. Too bad you can't watch it in true widescreen.
The sound, done in Dolby Digital 5.1, is good, but hardly a dynamic mix thanks to the source materials. There's nothing about the audio that stands out as worthy of the 5.1 tracks, but they are appreciated, especially during musical moments. Thankfully, the dialogue, a key to the series, is just about perfect, with every word coming across perfectly.
The extras are kept in quarantine on the B-side of the third disc, where they won't hurt anyone. Found there are six featurettes that go behind the camera or focus on themes in the series. "The Concept" (4:49) looks at the idea behind the show, with interviews with creator David Shore and executive producer Bryan Singer and some of the cast, along with on-set footage, while "Medical Cases" talks about where story ideas come from and how much the cast has learned about medicine during their time on the show.
Following "Casting Sessions with Hugh Laurie," 1:25 of Laurie's audition tape, is "Set Tour," a 5:38 trip around the set with Jennifer Morrison and Lisa Edelstein. It's one of the better extras, as it shows the truth about the impressive-looking set. It's challenged by "House-isms," a retrospective of House's attitude and witticisms that shows just how good the writing is on this show.
The extras wrap up with "Dr. House." This six-minute look at the character of Gregory House and the man who plays him, features interviews with the main cast and crew and generally talks up the man at the center of it all. That makes for just over 26 minutes in extras. A commentary or two would have been nice.
The Bottom Line
Fans of "E.R." and "C.S.I." might find that "House" is the perfect intersection of their interests. A drama with a sense of humor, this show is a wonderful mix of all that makes up life, and with Laurie in the lead role, its well-acted to boot. The DVDs have to be labeled as disappointing, thanks to the non-anamorphic transfers and minor extras, even if the show itself is great and it looks and sounds very good. If you're a fan, you'll want to own these episodes, and if you've never seen "House," you'll want to give it a look, as it's one of the best shows out there.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.