It's easy to dismiss Hugh Laurie for his multiple awards and honors for his role as the cantankerous, offensive yet brilliant Dr. Greg House in the medical television drama House. In fact as someone who watched the show every week when it started out, I consider myself one of those who glossed over Laurie's performances. Maybe it was the rise of other shows to occupy my time, maybe I got tired of the brilliance (if you could call it that), but in coming back to check in on its sixth season, I was amazed by something.
By this point, I hope we're all aware of House and his acuity in diagnosing rare and often potentially lethal medical conditions at New Jersey's Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. We know about his friend at the hospital, Oncology Department Head Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard, The Last Days Of Disco). House is the head of his own department, and the members include the ambitious Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps, Higher Learning), the very Australian Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer, Uptown Girls) and his wife Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison, Star Trek). There's also Dr. Taub (Peter Jacobson, What Just Happened) and Dr. Hadley (Olivia Wilde, Year One), whom House refers to as "13" because that's the number she was assigned during an earlier season where House spent a portion of the time trying to compose a new department. It's perhaps the results of that process which brought Season Five to an abrupt change in cast and department members, and led House to his beginnings in Season Six, and what turned out to be one of the better dramatic episodes on network television that I can remember seeing.
House is despondent and decides to commit himself to an institution. He thinks he's cleared his mind and is ready to return to work, but the institution's psychiatrist, Dr. Nolan doesn't think that may be the case. Dr. Nolan is played by the outstanding actor Andre Braugher, who worked for show Executive Producer Paul Attanasio when both were on the '90s police show Homicide: Life on the Street. Nolan sees that House's problems go beyond his basic caustic personality. There are issues of trust and relationships that House has to work through. Some of those he does with Lydia (Franka Potente, The Bourne Identity), who's visiting a family member in the hospital. While others are part of more innocent exercises that Nolan has set up. Over the course of the two-hour premiere titled "Broken," it's as effective a deconstruction and reconstruction of a character that I've seen, and Laurie conveys this beautifully. He realizes the bottom and gently guides himself back to some semblance of restoration. It made me wonder what was going to happen next in the season.
From there, the episodes seem to return to the form that made them become complacent. Somebody gets a weird disease, House peripherally helps while trading barbs with his department members along with the hospital's Dean of Medicine Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein, Daddy Day Care), and most of the time a third act resolution saves the day, except when it doesn't. The only difference I could discern is that compared to previous seasons, there's a bit more exposition within the supporting characters than there was. Which is fine, but I've never felt invested in Thirteen or Taub, particularly because their auditions for House felt an awful lot like American Idol which also appears on Fox.
There are some fleeting moments of intrigue in the sixth season past its premiere, as the show manages to lure in a familiar face or two in the role of ailing patients. Among those are James Earl Jones (Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins), David Strathairn (The Spiderwick Chronicles) and Laura Prepon (That 70's Show). However in Strathairn's case he's plugged into a Laurie-directed episode that doesn't do much other than to have the supporting cast learn a little more about one another than they would other.
Yet for all of the momentum that House earned by starting on an exceptionally strong note, it seems to lose some of this as the season wears on either by not fully committing to House's recovery as perhaps he should, or giving some of the supporting cast time to develop their characters to have some manner of charisma to them. Regardless of how the season turns out, I guess the certain things in life still remain death, taxes and quality acting performances from Hugh Laurie.
All of the episodes of House are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, consistent with their original broadcast format. You can spot quite a bit of detail like facial hair, and pores from a pristine source material. Blacks crush a little, but flesh tones look good and the show creators get a chance to play with style every so often. It's solid television viewing.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround that winds up being more active in the rear channels than I was expecting for this drama. Perhaps as a result of Attanasio's touch, the show employs a bit of music in the third act, and it's clear sounding and decent quality to boot. There's even a hint of subwoofer activity sporadically throughout the season while the center channel dialogue sounds balanced and strong.
The 21 episodes in the sixth season are spread out over five discs and include a decent amount of extras. Episode commentaries appear on four episodes ("Broken," "Wilson," "5 to 9" and "Help Me") with a mix of the cast and the show's writers and/or creators. The commentaries are generally light affairs and don't delve much into the production from a information standpoint, though "Wilson" with Leonard and David Foster is pretty good, as they talk about the cast interactions and Leonard's comparisons to a latter-day Walter Matthau. You won't learn much on the commentaries, but they're fun.
Most of the other extras are on the first disc, starting with "Before Broken," which recalls the approach taken for shooting the footage at the end of Season Five that would be part of the Season Six opener, and Laurie's work on the material. A short conceptual film with Laurie at the hospital is the genesis for the feature and is interesting to see. "A New House for House" (22:40) focuses on the production, set and location designs for the show, where it was at the end of the fifth season and how they managed to make shooting in a fake mental hospital look authentic. "New Faces in a New House" (8:45) looks at those guest stars in the episode, what they think of the show and working with Laurie, while sharing their two cents on the characters they play. The only other extra is on Disc Four, titled "A Different POV" (7:23), which recalls Laurie's direction in the episode titled "Lockdown," and what the other cast members think about how he works, while Laurie talks about his first time directing.
The sixth season of House starts off good and ends on an interesting note, but past that, the injection of new blood appears to show the patient not fully accepting the diagnosis. Laurie still brings his "A" game and the cast wants to match the effort, but they're still hampered by the way the episodes lay themselves out on screen. Worth watching for the opening and closing episodes but past that, newbies should start with an earlier season to get oriented.