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In its eighth season, House as good as ever

At the beginning of its eighth season, House M.D. is still one of the best shows on television, and certainly the best medical drama (although it feels more like a comedy) of all time.  In fact, the show has gotten better and better throughout its run (I’d much rather watch an episode from a more recent season then one from the first four)  The second episode of the season was among the best I’ve seen in the show’s history.  How is it still so good?

Everyone was upset a few seasons back when they basically got rid of Forman, Chase, and Cameron in favor of a new group of doctors to take their place.  They managed to find a better group of actors and created characters that were much more interesting.  This season, they’ve scrapped the cast again (although it looks like Olivia Wilde will be back for at least one week).  Most shows would be terrified about alienating their fans by switching things up so regularly, but House has taken risks that have paid off.

The story lines are always interesting, and the show has smartly gotten away from relying on the formulaic medical cases every week to keep fans interested.  While the cases are still there, and they are interesting, the focus of the show has gradually shifted towards the characters, their relationships, issues, and ongoing developments.  We’ve seen House in a mental institution, and now a prison, as he continues to make it through life with constant, severe pain, not to mention is social and mental issues that prevent him from connecting with most people.  The genius is in how the writers are able to take the show in so many different directions, but still manage to keep things grounded and (somewhat) believable.  Of course, in the real world, House would have lost his license, been fired, and probably died years ago, but in this world you never question it.  He’s a brilliant doctor and is able to get away with all kinds of things because of it.

What the writers and show runners understand is that as long as they have Hugh Laurie around, the show is going to be good no matter who you surround him with.  The only other character on the show who isn’t completely replaceable is Wilson (played pitch-perfectly by Robert Sean Leonard).  Watching House and Wilson go at each other like Holmes and Watson is the truly greatest pleasure of the show, and the reason why it’s still endearing after so many seasons. 

This season, Cuddy has left (after House drove a car through her living room six months ago) and Foreman is the new dean of medicine.  It’ll be great for the show, as Cuddy was the weakest character and giving Foreman more power is sure to cause plenty of rifts.  His team is gone, as is his office and salary.  I’m sure the writers will find ways to bring some of the old characters back, but for now it’ll be fun to see Laurie push newcomer Charlyne Yi (best known from Knocked Up) around.

Last week’s episode ended with Wilson punching House in the nose and then inviting him to dinner.  It was a great scene, and a reminder that House, after all these years, is not only still running, but has plenty of gas left in the tank.

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