Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

To tell you the truth, I really wasn’t looking forward to House M.D. this season, so much so that I actually forgot to watch the season premiere.  After the departure of Amber Tamblyn and last year’s bizarre, Clockwork Orange musical dream sequence, I was pretty sure that House’s antics had lost both their power to shock his co-workers, and to entertain audiences.

Well, after getting caught up on the first two episodes of Season 8, I’m happy to announce that I was wrong.  But you can understand where I was coming from; after all, if House in rehab wasn’t that interesting, and House in a mental institution wasn’t that interesting, and House in a relationship with Cuddy wasn’t that interesting, how was House in prison going to be any different?  It was, and I’m almost sorry Hugh Laurie’s going to be back at Princeton Plainsboro for the rest of the season.

With “Twenty Vicodin,” the writers clearly capitalized on what has always been one of the show’s top assets: fresh cast members.  From House’s spooky, silent, hulking cellmate (Michael Bailey Smith (Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek Voyager) as Sullivan), to the dilettante prison physician (new series regular Odette Annable (Monk, Cloverfield, Life on Mars (U.S.)), as Dr. Jessica Adams), “Twenty Vicodin” was peppered with engaging characters to challenge House.  The plot hinges on House’s efforts to earn parole (after crashing his car into Cuddy’s house in last season’s finale) by keeping his nose clean on his last five days in prison.  That requires him to stockpile and hand over the eponymous twenty vicodin to prison gangleader Mendelson (Jude Ciccolella, Life, Medium, Monk, Burn Notice, Law and Order, Star Trek: Nemesis); avoid pissing off fellow inmates; really avoid pissing off the infirmary supervisor; and somehow simultaneously (of course) solve a medical mystery.  Fellow inmate Nick (Sebastian Sozzi, Law and Order) has mysterious symptoms, and House must circumvent every prison regulation in place to diagnose him.  And by the way?  It’s not lupus.

Episode 2, “Transplant” doesn’t quite pick up where “Twenty Vicodin” left off, because while House did save the guy’s life, he also annoyed enough folks in prison to get another 8 months tacked onto his sentence.  Enter new Dean of Medicine Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps), in a fairly inevitable if ho-hum choice with an offer: come back to Princeton Plainsboro to diagnose a “dream patient”– a pair of already-harvested lungs slated for a transplant to Dr. Wilson’s (Robert Sean Leonard) dying cancer patient.  The medical puzzle in this episode is House at its best–intriguing, impossible, desperate, and totally innovative.  With his original team long gone (is it mean to say “Yay!”?), House must work with disgraced neurology intern Dr. Chi Park (Charlene Yi), who is not quite Amber Tamblyn, but held her own as well as any House fellow can be expected to.  We’re definitely looking forward to watching her character grow this season.

But the heart of “Transplant,” as it always is, was Wilson, carrying the emotional plotline for both the lungs and for House’s return to the hospital.  House’s and Wilson’s relationship has always been the sort of subtle backbone to the series, explored in varying depths through the years, but with this episode you got the sense that everyone finally got that, and that we may see that relationship explored in even greater depths this season.  Robert Sean Leonard’s performance was top-notch, particularly in the painfully satisfying scene of Wilson finally telling House that he just doesn’t care anymore.  You truly had the sense that he meant it; he just seemed done.  We also had a sense that just maybe House might have finally changed, too, expressed in the beautifully-written and deceptively simple line, “We save the lungs.  Wilson needs them.”  Of course, they’re House and Wilson and this is episodic TV, so too much can’t change between them, and it was nice to see them heading off into the sunset together for a steak.

After these promising first two episodes, can Season 8 keep up the momentum?  I have to admit, the teasers don’t look promising.  More Princeton Plainsboro, more old team.  I’m tempted to yawn, but my DVR is still firmly tuned to Fox Mondays at 8/7.

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