TV Review: Hugh Laurie makes 'House' worth a visit

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If this fall's first-to-premiere medical mystery show, NBC's "CSI" retread "Medical Investigation," left you unimpressed, you might have a better reaction to Fox's "House," an engrossing new series with a fascinatingly unsympathetic character at its core.

   
'House'

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday on Fox.
Starring: Hugh Laurie.    

Imagine Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) from "Scrubs" as the lead of a TV drama and you'll have an idea what to expect of Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie).

A doctor with no bedside manner would be preferable to the aggressively nasty streak found in House, a brilliant but anti-social physician.

"Isn't treating patients why we became doctors?" asks young Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps).

"No, treating illnesses is why we became doctors," House says. "Treating patients is what makes most doctors miserable."

Created by David Shore, "House" is executive produced by Paul Attanasio and Katie Jacobs, the same team responsible for ABC's short-lived "Gabriel's Crossing." Structurally, "House" is similar to that Andre Braugher vehicle. In both shows, a genius-like doctor with major personal baggage is at the center of the story while eager, young doctors do his bidding. But there's a key difference: On "Gabriel's Crossing," it felt like two different shows -- "The Brilliant Doc" and "The Young Docs" -- but on "House" the entire cast is better integrated. House is a stand-offish recluse, so it makes sense that he'd send the young doctors as his emissaries to interact with patients.

In Tuesday's premiere, House doesn't even meet his primary patient until near the end of the episode. She's brought in by Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), the closest thing House has to a friend.

Rebecca Adler (guest star Robin Tunney) is an elementary school teacher who temporarily loses control of her motor skills and collapses to the floor of her classroom before going into a seizure.

"Brain tumor, she's gonna die, boring," House says when he first learns of the case. But he grudgingly takes it on.

In the meantime, hospital administrator Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) is after House to fulfill his clinic hours. Dragging his feet, he does, but he lashes out at the patients, suggesting to one man his wife is having an affair.

Shore gives House an ailment of his own -- he walks with a cane and constantly pops Vicodin -- presumably in an effort to humanize a naturally unlikable character. But thanks to a strong, commanding performance by Laurie, such concessions are unnecessary. Even as he makes House somewhat despicable, Laurie also makes this character sympathetic. You may not like House, but Laurie makes sure you will love him, if not for his mind, than out of sympathy for the inner demons that surely drive his bad behavior.

As for the supporting cast, they can't help but pale in comparison. In the first two episodes, Epps' Dr. Foreman gets the most opportunity for character definition because he's cast as the Doubting Thomas who isn't completely on board with House's way of doing things.

Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer), a Brit, is the scruffy doctor who may or may not have the hots for Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), who's horrified to learn the reason House hired her.

"House" is not recommended for hypochondriacs. The medical cases can hit eerily close to home and show just how fallible the medical system can be. That makes the show riveting as well as disconcerting.

Credit director Bryan Singer, who helmed the two "X-Men" films, for the taut suspense in the first two episodes of "House." He sets the tone of this series that's as much about medical puzzles as it is the puzzlingly caustic personality of its central character.

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.



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