After a shocking finale to its third season, House M.D. returned to airwaves while doing the impossible: it kept its promise that the three doctors that worked under House (Hugh Laurie) would, indeed, no longer be working with him. Instead, the show mixed up the formula by introducing a whole slew of “possible” new candidates, all the while bringing us up to speed on what happened to Dr. Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), Dr. Foreman (Omar Epps), and Dr. Chase (Jesse Spencer). Like most shows last season, the fourth season of House M.D. was cut short due to the writers’ strike, but it’s one of the few that did not seem hindered by the abbreviated season at all.
With the firing and quitting of House’s staff, House is forced to hire a new pair of doctors for his team. Rather than simply hire a few candidates, House holds testing sessions for a massive group of doctors, all potential candidates and all of whom he eliminates “Survivor” style. The choice of doctors is finally whittled down to a select few and before long House finally finds his new team headed not only by himself but also by Dr. Foreman, who returns to work alongside the man he hates so much. With the Golden Globe winning Huge Laurie reprising his role as the sarcastic Dr. House, House M.D.’s fourth season proved to be one of the series strongest.
I full expected, based on the events of season three, to have a pair of episodes in the new season before we went back to our old ways with Cameron, Foreman and Chase. I was partially counting on this as well, since I’d grown to enjoy the banter between the three and House as well. But the writers figured it out long before the viewers did that perhaps another season of the same old storyline just wasn’t going to cut it and instead they infused the series with new blood. With the earlier seasons having a strong focus on the medical drama, later seasons began to ease back from the patients and focus on the doctors more and in this season in particular we see more about House than we ever have before and, in particular, his relationship with Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).
The fantastic thing about House M.D. is that it is damn near impossible to find an episode in any of the seasons that isn’t compelling and gripping in some way. None of the episodes leave you feeling “oh, well that could have been better if they didn’t do this” or “if they had gone in this direction”; everything about the show just always feels absolutely pitch perfect in every way. From the characters, the dialogue, the stories and just the writing in general, House M.D. is and likely always will be one of the most smartly written shows on television and one that will hopefully earn Hugh Laurie as many nominations as possible. Not that Laurie can take all the credit, although he is undoubtedly the reason people tune in each week, but between Wilson, Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), Cameron, Foreman and Chase, the series has just always had such a robust cast that even when House felt like he may be playing the same fiddle, the way they went about dealing with it is what kept the show unique and interesting.
Once I warmed up to the way the fourth season was handling things, I became very intrigued by all of the different doctors on the show and before long I was disappointed to see so many of them go. I warmed up to so many of them, but it was always in the back of my head that at least Dr. Kutner (Kal Penn) and Thirteen/Dr. Hadley (Olivia Wilde) would stay on board, simply because of their “star” status and work on past television shows, but who the third choice would be was never evident. Nor was it evident that there even would be a third doctor at first, especially once Dr. Foreman came back into the mix, but the final addition of Dr. Taub (Peter Jacobson) was still a welcome surprise. I’d hoped Dr. Cole (Edi Gathegi) would stick around, but, alas, nothing. Hopefully he’ll come back at some point in the future.
While almost every show of last season got smacked around in some way by the writers’ strike, I don’t think any of them pulled off a return quite like House M.D.. While it wasn’t originally set to return until the fifth season, the producers eventually got their way and convinced Fox for four more episodes, which wrapped up the season and made House M.D. one of the last shows to finish up the TV season. It left a lasting impression, however, with a superb two-part finale that was absolutely astonishing and mind blowing in all the ways that House M.D. is known for. It married the incredible writing and the supreme cast of characters in a way that no other episodes of the series had done before and it created one of the most memorable storylines the show has yet to conceive. Short of the cliffhanger endings of past seasons, I think this was the first true “two-part” episode the series had seen, and it certainly wasn’t something the writers squandered time on. Every second of each episode was utilized to fullest extent and gave us ample opportunity to get wrapped up in the story and the tragedy of it all.
House M.D. tugs at your emotions in ways not similar to any other show on TV. Fox has one of the strongest dramas in all of television airing on their network and here’s hoping they keep it going for many more years to come. If the writing staff has proved anything, they know when to mix things up and to keep it interesting both for themselves and also for those viewing at home. The season definitely took some unexpected turns, but everyone of them ended up being enjoyable to watch. Simply a fantastic and superb show all around and this season was certainly no slouch. Despite the limited return of the core three doctors in House’s arena, the mix of the old with the new caused this season’s superb crop of sixteen episodes are some of the series best. Highly Recommended.
Despite being an excellent show with an amazing cast, the DVD releases for this series always seem to be less than impressive. I’m not sure what it is, but between the overly simple packaging design and the always quiet and static menu systems, House M.D. just never really shines on DVD. While the dual layer digi-pak trays are conservative in the space they take up on the shelf, the rest of the packaging, this season coming in an abundance of green, simply looks unimpressive. The disc art is a simple logo on a mirrored surface, so there’s nothing particularly fascinating there. On the outside, the series simply looks bland and boring when it comes to the packaging that Universal gives it…but on the other hand, it also works for the series. I guess I would just like to see a more impressive approach to the series disc art and disc menus, as what we get is always just so mild in comparison to other TV shows on DVD.
While the presentation on the outside is a bit weak, what we get on the inside is no slouch. It’s hard to review this series on DVD having watched the season in HD on Fox, but even knowing what it can look like in HD, the series still looks remarkably good in SD. The colors are strong and vibrant with an extremely sharp picture throughout the season. Plenty of character detail is given and with a good upscaling DVD player, you’re liable to almost get it looking close to the original 720p broadcast. The audio matches the original broadcast with a English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that sounds fantastic, with plenty of surround work and LFE output during the course of the season.
Although it appears to be a boring smattering of extras on the outset, with the first three discs of the set containing only episodes and nothing else, the fourth disc is where we find all of our goodies. The first extra on the set is quite possibly my favorite, with “House’s Soap: Prescription Passion” (6:45), which collects all of the soap opera clips from the “Living the Dream” episode. It was a riot watching these small clips and I found myself laughing out loud at everyone in the series being pregnant. This is a fantastic extra that sets the pace for the rest of the extras on the set.
Next we have “New Beginnings” (26:02), a discussion on the season as a whole and the directions that the writers took. There’s also discussion on the writers’ strike itself, which is covered some more in the “Meet the Writers” (14:46) extra. Both of these give a great overview of what it was like to work on this season and include input from the crew as well as the majority of the cast. “The Visual Effects of House” (15:28) shows off how they did the various CGI effects throughout the season and I have to say, aside from the “in the body” type CGI sequences, I never noticed the CGI in the series before so that is a real testament to both how little they use in it and also how good what they do use is. “Anatomy of a Scene: The Bus Crash” (5:47) follows up the special effects piece with footage of how the bus crash from the final two part episode was handled.
Our final featurettes is “My Favorite Episode So Far…” (6:48), which interviews cast and crew about their favorite episodes. Laurie is vague on his favorite (and later states the “loves them all equally”), while executive producer Katie Jacobs mulls over the question only a short time before stating that the pilot remains her favorite episode of the series. David Shore follows up with his favorite, then we get to hear from the rest of the cast, including Morrison, Epps, Spencer and Edelstein, which all strangely choose the final two-part of this season as their favorite. Not that wasn’t a fantastic story, but none of them were in that particular episode for any length of time, so it’s a bit strange that they wouldn’t delve deeper into the past when they had more central stories or something where, I would imagine, they would have been on set more. Wilde, Penn and Jacobson pick the grave digging episode from this season and recount a prank that Penn played on the cast while digging in the dirt. A solid extra that, while short, is a great way to wrap up the featurettes on the set.
Our final extra is a commentary on “House’s Head” with creator/executive producer David Shore and executive producer Katie Jacobs. As expected the pair are an informative pair and while I would have loved more cast participation or, hell, just more commentaries on the set, the crunch time that the writers’ strike imposed upon everyone likely left little to no room for commentary recording sessions, so it’s understandable. Still, it’s nice we at least got commentary on this episode, as it’s not only, as I mentioned previously, a fantastic episode, but also because of the ramifications it will have on the next season.
Overall, despite a rather weak presentation in terms of packaging and menu design, this fourth season does not disappoint on DVD. Superb audio and video transfers and a healthy amount of extras make for an enjoyable set all around. Not to mention the extras are all anamorphic widescreen, which just makes them all that more enjoyable. Highly Recommended.
House M.D. Season Four is now available on DVD.