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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » House, M.D. - Season Four
House, M.D. - Season Four
Universal // Unrated // August 19, 2008
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted August 10, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
New faces, same old House

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Hugh Laurie, "House," mysteries, dark comedy
Likes: Companies that learn from their mistakes
Dislikes: Doctors, hospitals
Hates: Needles, Non-anamorphic widescreen

The Story So Far...
Executive Produced by Bryan Singer, "House, M.D." follows the medical misadventures of Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), a genius diagnostician with a bum leg and addiction to painkillers, who hates people and loves puzzles. Working with his team of doctors and annoying the hospital administrators, House tackles the toughest cases, where no one can figure out what's wrong with the patient. Focusing more on solving the mystery than the action in the operating room, the show tempers the drama of a medical show with House's sarcastic humor, and mixes in some intriguing relationships among the doctors. August is the month for House, with the first season released on DVD in 2005, with annual releases to follow. DVDTalk has reviews of both sets: Season One | Season Two | Season Three

The Show
At the end of the third season, House's somewhat trusted team of fellows was no more, having escaped his clutches, leaving for greener pastures. Without a group of doctors to balance his stubbornness, and serve as his whipping boys, the show's dynamic just doesn't work, a point illustrated by the first episode of the year, so you knew he wouldn't be without a group for long, and this season spends more than half the episodes selecting a new gang of doctors for House to torture.

Taking a cue from House's love of TV and his love of manipulating people's emotions, the search for a new team became a "real life" reality show, as he hires 40 fellows in order to whittle them down via a number of challenges. The wide variety of new characters, which include Kal Penn as a laid-back young doctor, Olivia Wilde's conflicted and emotional No. 13, and master manipulator Amber (Anne Dudek), is developed quite well, making it difficult to figure out who would be sticking around when House finally makes his picks. Playing out over nine episodes, the process is a bit too drawn out, though it makes sense that House would take his time picking a team he doesn't really want.

Complicating matters is the presence of the original team of Chase, Cameron and Foreman, though not in the way many may have expected, as it's not a return to the status quo. Smartly, the old crew is used selectively, in a way that makes sense for the characters and which doesn't overshadow the new group of doctors, as they need time to establish themselves, after three seasons with the original group. As one could expect, there's obvious comparisons to be made between the two groups, but the new group stands on its own as well, opening up the chance to explore some different storylines that couldn't be done with Cameron and company. That the new hires are played by some very talented actors (many will see Penn with some new respect) helps make the transition pretty painless.

As usual, the many cases that House and his team help solve are wildly inventive, from a man (the ever excellent Frank Whaley) who builds his personality by mirroring the people he interacts with, to an astronaut who can see sounds. Similarly, the way he breaks the cases are unique, like his attempts to help a scientist stuck at the South Pole (Mira Sorvino) via webcam, or his kidnapping of an actor on his favorite soap opera, feeling that he's sick and doesn't know it. It's rare that you run into a situation on this show that makes you feel you've seen it before, and if you ever did, it's not going to end the way you expect.

The subplots that tie together the individual episodes are intriguing as well, focusing on questions of faith and honesty, constant themes in House's world. Episode three, "97 Seconds" is one of the best this season, with a subplot about a man who wants to die because a near-death experience was the best thing that ever happened to him, while the Christmas episode, "It's a Wonderful Lie," is an excellent examination of what the truth can mean to people. The relationship between House and his best friend Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) also gets deeper exploration, as Wilson begins dating a girl who's just like House, creating a great deal of friction between them.

The situation leads up to the massive two-part season finale, which is probably the finest arc the show ever delivered. From the first moment, when House finds himself at a strip club, with no idea how he got there, to the heartbreaking final montage, it's just about perfect television. The inventive way everythingunfolds , as we enter the questionable memories that House attempts to uncover following a traumatic accident, is the kind of art that is usually limited to the big-budget films of visionaries. Yes, the musical montages are a bit overdone, manipulating the viewer beyond the honest emotion of the scene, but in the midst of the greatness that surrounds them, thisindulgence can be forgiven. These episodes are just that good.

The DVDs
Thanks to the writers strike, the fourth season of "House" was shortened to just 16 episodes, so the set shrunk from five discs down to four, which are held, overlapped, in a slipcovered two-tray, three-panel digipak, with episode descriptions. The discs have static anamorphic-widescreen main menus offering a choice to play all the episodes, select individual shows, view special features, and adjust languages. There are no audio options or closed captioning, but there are subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.

The Quality
Continuing to raise the bar in terms of broadcast television aesthetics, "House" reached new heights this season, especially in the final two episodes, which are simply beautiful. The anamorphic widescreen transfers on these discs are outstanding, with bright, appropriate color, an extremely high level of detail and no noticeable dirt, damage or compression artifacts to be found.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes present the show in optimal quality, pushing crisp, clear dialogue through the center channel, while using the surround speakers to deliver atmospheric effects and enhancements to the music soundtrack. There are a few memorable musical montages that are bumped up by the mix.

The Extras
The extras are contained entirely on the fourth DVD (with the exception of some previews on the first disc) and start with an episode-length audio commentary on "House's Head," by creator David Shore and executive producer Katie Jacobs. The duo share a good deal of info on how the episode was made, and thoughts on the innovative and emotional story. There are a few dead spots, but they have good chemistry when they are talking, making for a solid track.

There's a sweet selection of featurettes included here, led by "New Beginnings," a hefty 26-minute look back at the season, with interviews with the cast and crew. Hearing from just about everyone involved is a welcome supplement, considering the lack of commentaries, and the inclusion of some of the new recruits gives a different perspective. You also get to know the people behind the show in the 14:46 "Meet the Writers," which has interviews with the writing staff and discussion about how the show is created.

"The Visual Effects of 'House'" spends over 15 minutes on the various computer animations and special effects used on the show, with the effects crew demonstrating some of the techniques used. It's complemented by "Anatomy of a Scene: The Bus Crash," which focuses on the massive effect at the center of the two-part season finale. At just under six minutes, it's the shortest extra, but it's interesting to see how the shot was done.

The remaining two featurettes are slightly throw-aways, with "Prescription Passion" being an amusing novelty, as it presents just over six minutes of scenes from House's favorite soap opera. It's stereotypical bad acting, but still cute nonetheless. The final extra is "My Favorite Episode So Far..." which spends a little under seven minutes with the cast and crew, as they reminisce about, surprisingly, their favorite episodes.

The Bottom Line
After resisting the urge to make big changes in season three, season four changed everything, especially the team that works with House, which took a bit longer than it really needed, but which led to a two-part ending that's among the best episodes the show ever produced. The DVDs look and sound excellent, and the extras are a step up from the previous release, though they are missing a few of the more popular elements from previous sets. Unlike last season, this is a fine opportunity for new fans to jump on board, with a season that's practically self-contained, yet a wonderful continuation on the show's storylines.

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.

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*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.

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