Sophie’s Choice in House’s World

Maureen Ryan has a great interview with House creator David Shore, including a feature article and transcript. I love her House coverage. She geeks out over the same things I do (e.g., the philosophical underpinnings of the show, the character of House, and the House/Wilson dynamic) and is less interested in the elements I don’t expend must energy on either (e.g., the ducklings). And she’s clearly a fan of Hugh Laurie, but not in that borderline creepy way that would cause her to be included in the class action restraining order the man seems to need.

Her blog package of House goodness includes a sidebar on who should stay and who should go, which brought to mind a recent blog post by Jaime Weinman of Macleans about TV characters who get left in the dust. My first thought ended up being the example he brings up first (Moira Kelly on The West Wing), but my second thought was Chase and Cameron. Don’t get me wrong: their irrelevance to season four doesn’t bother me like it does some fans. Nearing the end of the season, I still feel the same way about the cast shakeup as I did near the beginning: I think it was a brilliant way to stave off staleness in a series often accused of being formulaic.

What I appreciate most about the story arc that began with House’s old team quitting and hasn’t yet ended is … it hasn’t yet ended. The show is notorious (at least in my mind, where notoriety is perhaps not that hard to come by) for story arcs that leave the world of the show in exactly the same place as it was before. You could lift the Vogler, Tritter, and Stacy storylines out of your DVD sets, watch only the episodes that surrounded them, and feel no gap in character development or plot.

This is one shakeup that doesn’t feel like a reset button has been set, yet one that was skillfully done so as not to alter the DNA of the show. Truthfully, I think the show could swap House’s team every season without damaging the fundamental DNA of the show. The series is built around House, and every other character exists to illuminate his character. I can’t remember who said this — David Shore? Katie Jacobs? — but House is the hub and the other characters are spokes. In creating this brilliant lead character, the show has sacrificed something of its secondary character development. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest: for me, as for the show, it’s all about House.

So Maureen Ryan’s “should they stay or should they go list” has only two must-stays for me (assuming House is a given, unlike what Hugh Laurie apparently thinks): Wilson and Cuddy. Wilson is irreplaceable, period. They can’t credibly go the “new best friend” route and losing that relationship would be a huge loss to the series. Lisa Edelstein turns an often-thankless role (voice of reason and authority and source of much eye-rolling) into a crackling battle of wits with her employee least likely to make employee of the year, making her my other indispensable character.

Chase and Cameron: Go. I think Jesse Spencer and Jennifer Morrison have always been the weakest acting links on the show, their characters have been reduced to irrelevancy now, and any screen time for them means less screen time for the remaining characters who have a reason to be onscreen. The only hope for them is to be re-integrated into House’s team, which would mean hitting the reset button on this story arc too, which for me would be a sad cop-out.

Foreman: Like Ryan, I could go either way on him. He’s been given a role on House’s team, which means he’s not being shoehorned into scenes like the other two. But so far he’s not adding much either. I’m big on reducing clutter so I’ll say go, and hope I regret that if he starts to shine later.

Taub: I’m equally on the fence about him. He was the one candidate who never stood out for me — I kept forgetting his existence — until we got the episode featuring the explanation for why he left his plastic surgery practice. Since getting one of the three duckling slots, I’ve been equally lukewarm on him again, though … until the last pre-strike episode, “Don’t Ever Change,” when his attitude adjustment about the Hasidic couple was a highlight of a fine episode. He’s got an understated strength I like that’s a nice counterpoint to House, but so far it’s too understated, and I still forget his existence sometimes. Still, I’ll say stay, since I’m intrigued enough to see what they’ll do with him.

Amber: I was probably in the minority in that I wanted Amber to stick around from the beginning. But I get what Shore says in Ryan’s interview, too: “I think largely that came down to, we’ve got one House. We could have fun with that parallel, but it’s also in some ways limiting.” Keeping her around as Wilson’s girlfriend is fine by me though.

Thirteen: You know what, I’m not inclined this way, but Olivia Wilde is a gorgeous woman and I don’t mind a little female eye candy around for House to snack on. I don’t see the flirtation between them that other fans seem to. I like that he appreciates her visually, is intrigued by her personally, but their relationship isn’t plagued by the “do you like me” cringe-worthiness that tainted the House/Cameron one. Her enigma came unwrapped fairly quickly, but I’ll trust for now that there’s more to explore. So she can stay.

Kutner: Stay. Yes, I’m swayed a little by the desire for some more male eye candy, and Kal Penn is adorable and likeable. His inept success was the character’s initial goofy charm for me — setting a patient on fire while saving her life, for example — though he’s mellowed into simply goofy lately, but I have high hopes for more comic relief to come, as well as Penn’s moment to show his dramatic acting chops.

So I end up wanting to get rid of House’s entire old team and keeping the entire new one, plus Amber. It’s not that I hated the old team, or love the new one so much more, so much as seeing House pick apart his new science projects is more entertaining than the same old, same old with the old ones. Plus the changeover makes more sense than having supposedly smart doctors stuck in a never-ending fellowship, or keeping characters who have nothing meaningful to do and who spread too thin the already-thin secondary character screentime. It’s easy to forget that we haven’t seen the new team coalesce much in the strike-shortened season, but I’m still intrigued enough by the newbies and bored enough by the oldies to think the swap is a good one.

Monday is the first new House after the writers strike, and the clip below makes me think I have to retract Dr. House’s honorary Canadian designation, since he’s again hilariously denigrating our nationality:

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13 Responses to Sophie’s Choice in House’s World

  1. Mef says:

    I feel pretty much the same way you do Diane.

    It really doesn’t make sense, other than in a running a tv show sense, that qualified doctors like Chase and Cameron or Foreman would stick around. Not to get too geeky, but if Ryker is so good, he would have commanded another starship pretty early on. And I know it was explained he wanted to stay but it didn’t work imo.

    Keep the core in tact, Wilson, Cuddy, and of course House and rotate the people around them out. If someone hits, like an Amber, figure out a way to keep them in.

    It’s pretty clear to me that the show doesn’t need Cameron or Chase (or Foreman as a Cuddy proxy either).

  2. Namaste says:

    I’m with you on Chase and Cameron, in that if they’re smart, they should move on. With Foreman, I feel his arc should reach this same conclusion. According to House, he hadn’t learned everything he needed to learn a year ago. If he doesn’t learn it soon, he never will. Although I do love the Foreman and Taub scenes. They’ve been a surprise and a delight.

    Having new people makes sense both in terms of story line and in a real world in which a fellowship is a short term post. I fully expect to see House’s team members come and go, now that the precedent has been set.

    The thing I also loved in the Mo Ryan piece (admittedly because she quoted my question to him verbatim) was getting his input that House is still figuring who he is, and who he wants to be. So questions as to whether he will or will not change — or is capable of changing — falls into the area of House still deciding whether something that he sees as an essential part of himself (misanthropy, addiction, etc.)is actually who he is, rather than changing who he is.

  3. Diane Kristine says:

    Heh, Mark, I almost used the Riker comparison but took it out because I thought it made me look too geeky. (Like I don’t already?)

    That was a great question, Namaste. Not surprising it was yours then! Larry Kaplow and Katie Jacobs have said similar things – that House is not unaware of the life lessons he should be learning, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to have a great epiphany and be a different person. But Shore’s quote sums it up so well: “People struggle to change, people want to change, want to become better, but that’s what life is, that struggle to achieve that. It’s tiny baby steps.” Plus I think House fights against change, partly out of spite because everyone is telling him he’s miserable and needs to change, partly because not changing is his comfort zone – same as all of us.

  4. DMc says:

    But if they get rid of Cameron, then how will she and House wind up together as it so clearly preordained?

  5. Diane Kristine says:

    Well, there is that. You know she’s canonically approved and everything.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The ducklings moving on from House’s team makes sense, being removed from the show doesn’t. Jennifer Morrison, Jesse Spencer and Omar Epps have contributed to the show’s success as much as Hugh Laurie, Lisa Edelstein and Robert Sean Leonard, they don’t deserve to be dump like garbage because the show was getting stale.

  7. Diane Kristine says:

    Jesse Spencer (or any of them) contributed as much to the show as Hugh Laurie? Wow, we’re watching a different show.

  8. Anonymous says:

    As a whole cast yes. I’m not comparing any of them individually to Hugh Laurie. But I also don’t think that the show is House, Cuddy and Wilson and the rest is disposable. House needs interesting people to interact with, and this season so far, they’re nonexistent.

  9. Mary says:

    I think it was brave of David Shore and company to have three regular characters “move on” from a show which was high in the ratings. But I also think they were brave to present viewers more than three years ago with a show whose main character was, superficially, as unlikeable as House.

    I’ve read lots of “13”/Remy Hadley bashing in the “House M.D.” websites I visit, and I don’t understand it. For me it’s refreshing to have a lovely young woman physician who is NOT mooning over her work supervisor, and I’ve been pleased that she has stood up to House more than once.

    If there’s one thing I can count on, it’s that “House M.D.” will be going places we never expected it to. I trust that wherever they take us, it will be interesting.

  10. Diane Kristine says:

    You’ve hit on my feelings exactly, Mary. I think that’s the real difference I feel compared to people who don’t like the change: I trust these writers, because even when they’ve temporarily taken me down paths I’ve only reluctantly followed (Vogler arc, House’s miracle leg cure), they’ve never ultimately disappointed me. I’m sure it will happen sometime – it’s hard to sustain a show, especially a procedural, without getting stale or making too big a break with what made it successful in the first place. Which is what makes me think this changeover was a great choice. My bigger worry is that they’ll keep everyone and end up with too many underutilized characters, or they’ll hit the reset button again, just a lot later than usual. But I have faith, and will until House gets married, has babies, and adopts a puppy 😉

  11. Suldog says:

    Have to say I’m not pleased with the new night. The Celtics playoff game is on opposite. If it had stayed on Tuesday, I could have watched both. Now I’ll be torn, no matter which one I watch…

  12. Diane Kristine says:

    Suldog, no TiVo-like device? Mondays actually work well for me because I can now go to Tuesday volleyball. Will I? That’s a whole other question …

  13. Mef says:

    To pick up an earlier point: Chase, Cameron and Foreman (more specifically the actors who play them) weren’t exactly dumped. Though Chase didn’t exactly own yesterday’s show.

    But the fact David Shore shook it up, allowed me to entertain the possibility that Cuddy was in trouble tonight (though I was pretty sure she wasn’t). Firing characters or killing them leaves the audience guessing, and the for the most part, that is good. So to me that is positive thing about the shake-up; (because as of yet I don’t prefer the new to the old) I like not knowing what is going to happen. And if that means some actors who were paid well for three seasons are now in at less, I’m ok with that.

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