We've all heard the cliche that sitcom characters are doomed to learn valuable life lessons only to forget them a week later. (They're a lot like Technicolor goldfish.) Cousin Balki will never assimilate into America. Steve Urkel will never be cool. Sitcom characters don't change and they don't grow. The same goes for characters in procedural dramas like House.
All the king's horses and all the king's men are never going to put Dr. Gregory House back together again. No miracle or near-death experience will do the trick. No matter how much long-suffering oncologist Wilson suffers, he'll always come back. Hot Chief of Hospital Administration Cuddy will always be groped. Foreman, a neurologist played by Omar Epps, will always be dull. The diagnosis will never, ever be lupus. But above all, Dr. House will always be a dick. The show hinges on it. His reformation--no matter how much we think we want it--would result in the series' cancellation.
This is why, five seasons in, I started to worry. The writers are basically doing reverse diagnostics on a show about a broken man who, by design, can never be mended. They have to nurture a disease and still keep the thing alive. How do you keep it fresh?
I know very little about medicine, but when it comes to this show, the answer seems to be more disease.
House hasn't gotten any worse, but he's getting a run for his money thanks to internist Thirteen (Olivia Wilde). After diagnosing herself with Huntingdon's disease last season, she's embarked upon a self-destructive spiral reminiscent of an earlier House. The one glimmer of hope--an opportunity to test a new medication--only amounts to a brain tumor and adds more fuel to her fire. She's the kind of person who'd benefit from a decent mentor. Fortunately, the voice of authority is House. So instead of the usual miracle and musical montage, we get to see this spiral through.
In Memoriam: David Brenner