Diagnosing ‘House’: How Can The Show Heal Itself?

by | September 30, 2010 at 7:59 AM | House, TV News

Hugh Laurie on House (FOX)

Hugh Laurie on House (FOX)

House‘ is in serious condition. Once Fox’s most watched scripted series, this season the show is faltering.  The Season 7 premiere’s ratings declined 34% from the sixth season opener (6.1 million viewers versus 4.1 million among Adults 18-49), and this week’s episode was down another 10%, to 3.8 million.   It’s a case that’s suited to House himself: Why did the popular, critically acclaimed show take a sudden nosedive?

The obvious explanation is that the audience is disappointed with this season’s focus on the romantic relationship between House (Hugh Laurie) and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein.)  After years of simmering sexual tension, they finally slept together in the season premiere.   In fact, the majority of the season premiere consisted of two of television’s least sentimental, toughest, most defensive characters cuddling and talking about their feelings.  It was pretty much the opposite of why most people, with the possible exception of those who write Huddy fan fiction, tune in to see the show.

Wrote Fancast commenter Katie, “Of all the relationships they teased for House over the six seasons of the show (Cameron, Stacy, Wilson, Cuddy, Cate and Lydia), I thought that Cuddy was the least plausible and the only one which would force House to change who he is in order to put them together. House/Cuddy scenes work when it’s about sex but not when they try to move it to a realistic relationship level even without the purple prose of kissing his scar.While it’s gratifying to see that I was right about this being a huge mess, the cost is the loss of the show I once loved.”

Catch Up On Full Episodes Of ‘House’ On XfinityTV

But House has drilled into his residents heads that the obvious explanation is almost always wrong – or at least incomplete.  If done right, allowing two characters to act on their sexual tension should not be a show killer. ‘House’ succeeded by following a simple formula: Dr. Gregory House was a modern Sherlock Homes who used his superior intellectual and observational skills to diagnose unusual medical problems.  His brilliance allowed him to get away with misanthropic behavior.  Each episode focused on a patient with a mysterious ailment, but the show’s chief pleasure came from watching House berate, belittle and mock everyone around him.  He got away with it because he really was the smartest person in the room and because the audience was privy to his inner demons, particularly his drug addiction.  They are what made him one of the most fascinating characters on television.  Unfortunately, they no longer exist.

‘House’ creator David Shore talks Season 7:

Last season, House conquered his drug addiction.  He went through rehab and became a more functional human being.  Granted, this was realistic character growth after six seasons.  But it changed House’s personality.  Unfortunately, a functional House is a less entertaining House.  House’s lack of respect for everyone around him is what made him so interesting.

In this week’s episode, House ended up altering the way he planned to treat a patient out of deference to Cuddy’s wishes.  The House that people know and love would not have let his personal life affect the way he does his job.  Said commenter Amber, “Silly me for thinking I was watching ‘House,’ a medical procedural centered around a genius diagnostician. I can’t handle all this Huddy pimping.”

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The show has also been impacted by a routine TV disease: Changing Supporting Cast Syndrome.  Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) was written off the show.  Thirteen is out for much of the season due to Olivia Wilde landing several film roles.  Kal Penn, who played Kutner, left at the end of Season 5 to work for the White House.  A revolving door never helps a long-running series.

As every House fan knows, there is always a way to save the patient.  The show can get itself back on track by returning to its roots.  House can still terrorize his coworkers even if he is spending every night with Cuddy.  In fact, it will make their relationship more interesting if he continues to treat her as a sparring partner at work.

The mysteries on the show used to be surprising and thought-provoking.  After seven years, it’s difficult to come up with new ailments, but it is still possible to come up with great puzzles. ‘Law & Order’ has proven it’s possible.  The show can experiment with longer medical arcs or more innovative takes on the formula like the classic episode “Three Stories’ which delved into House’s past while remaining focused on the mystery.  Bring back Cameron to fill the void left by Thirteen’s departure.  Give Huddy the same level of importance that it had before they got together.  Their relationship should be a C-storyline, not the main plot of the show.

Finally, there needs to be more focus on the most important relationship in House’s life: his friendship with Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard.)  They are the true loves of each other’s lives.

What do you think ‘House’ needs to do to get back on track?