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FALL TV: Hot 'House' tonight
September 21, 2009  | By Diane Werts
 
house-s6-hugh-laurie.jpg[UPDATE: Episode repeats Thursday, Oct. 1 at 11 p.m. ET on USA . . . ]

If you were in a mental hospital, wouldn't you be happy to find Hugh Laurie's Dr. House as a fellow patient? The guy's funny, he's smart, he's an anarchist, he's guaranteed thrills. Also painful insults, but hey, you can't have everything.

Except in tonight's season-starter for House (Monday 8-10 p.m. ET, Fox). If Hugh Laurie doesn't win the Emmy for this, they should stop giving them away. (Of course, I've been saying that for years about Dexter star Michael C. Hall, and Sunday night they had another Emmyfest anyway. At least Hall got nominated.)

As the sixth season of House unreels, Laurie pretty much boils down his entire character into a world of hurt. And not just aimed against others. Finally, we see how Greg -- and it really feels here like we should call him by his first name -- labors under mountains of emotional torture. Forget the leg, and even the pills. He's been burying his psychic pain so deep and so relentlessly that it's risen to approximate the size of the Staten Island landfill. (You can see it from space!)

Digging in with equal determination is Andre Braugher, who's as cool here playing House's shrink as he was hot playing Homicide interrogator Frank Pembleton. When they go mano a mano -- or is that cabeza a cabeza? -- it's a spine-tingler. You know this guy's gonna drill down to the core. And ultimately, he does.

house_s6_braugher_laurie.jpg

But along that rocky road, we encounter a whole host of flesh-and-blood characters, courtesy of some sensitive directing by series showrunner Katie Jacobs (who really needs to get behind the camera more). House finds himself in group therapy with the Girl Who Won't Speak, the Manic Guy Who Won't Stop Talking, and other memorables. House misbehaves amusingly, and also solves a case in the clink. He even manages to meet a patient's best friend who, since she's played by Franke Potente (The Shield's Armenian mobster), turns out to be oh so much more involved than a simple acquaintance.

The most important connection, though, is that House gets to meet House. Not pretty, perhaps, but pretty compelling. So the riveting two-hour opener ends with a new beginning, which presents a fascinating fork in the road for series scripting chief David Shore. He and star Laurie have managed to reinterpret if not reinvent House time and time again, but here they're tackling their biggest challenge.

How thrilling is it to see a show take the hard way out? They're doing it this season on Dexter, too -- Showtime's season premiere is Sunday, Sept., 27 -- with another deft actor who perpetually reveals layers of expression in a man working hard to hide behind an impassive mask.

House and Dexter both do shockingly horrible things. That's entertaining to watch. But we continue to follow them intensely because we spy more beneath -- there's a soul of some kind, or they wouldn't be doing work to "help" people. (With Dexter, we use the term extremely loosely.) And we wouldn't care. These are characters we can savor on the surface and then peer deep inside of, making us partners of a sort in their performance.

And their attitude. Ever been a cranky-pants yourself? Ever wanted to off an evildoer? These guys get away with it. But not without cost. We keep hoping to see those hearts beating, and in treats like tonight's House, our devotion is rewarded with the kind of cumulative impact that series TV was made to deliver.

Sometimes, you can have everything.

(See preview clips of House here and Dexter here.)

 

1 Comment

 

elise said:

I stopped watching House last year because I got tired of watching a drug addicted, sociopathic Dr. getting away with treating people badly, no ... horribly...it stopped being compelling tv for me to watch.... Last night? I came home to a new House. I thought this episode was terrific. I was drawn in, stayed in, and connected on all different levels. And found out that Greg can be a real (decent) human being. Terrific tv worth watching. I think I'll stick around for awhile....

 
 
 
 
 
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