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House, M.D.: Season Four

(2007) *** 1/2 Unrated
660 min. Fox Network. Cast: Hugh Laurie.

/content/films/3195/1.jpgCertain critics have maintained that runaway hit House, M.D. has had a roller-coaster of quality over its four seasons, though I would argue that its excellence has been more consistent than they'd have you believe. It's true that House suffers when it hews too closely to strict formula (satisfying though it may be), and sensing the parameters of their box, the show's writers (led by creator David Shore) have taken apart the show and rebuilt it. The risk paid off: not only does the show still work, but it's more spontaneous than it's been since the series debuted.

The undying appeal of House is its title character, the most compelling on TV. Possessed with genius, unrelenting sarcasm, Machiavellian self-interest, and carefully guarded reserves of feeling, theb misanthropic Gregory House, M.D. (Hugh Laurie, who should be holding three Emmys by now) isn't happy unless he's solving a medical mystery and making everyone around him crazy. At the end of Season Three, House's long-suffering team of differential diagnosticians went their separate ways, leaving the Sherlock Holmes of New Jersey's Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital off-balance. If he can't lure back his collective comfort zone (the doctors played by Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison, and Jesse Spencer, all still series regulars), he'll either have to shore up his denial or move on and choose a new staff.

House's put-upon boss Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) insists upon the latter, allowing House to continue its disease-of-the-week investigations while juggling devilishly complicated elimination rounds, reality-TV-style, to determine House's final three doctors. It's one part parody, one part farce, one part compelling, and one part hilarious as House plays head games with his overwhelmed candidates, including Kal "Kumar" Penn. House's former staff slowly reintegrates into the show, but a greater focus is put onto the relationship between House and his "Dr. Watson" Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).

Even though Season Four was seriously handicapped by the Writer's Strike, its sixteen episodes are of exceedingly high caliber, and any doubts are disspelled by the brilliant season ender (originally conceived as a special Super Bowl episode). Leonard was robbed of an Emmy nomination for his work this season, but the cast is excellent all around. Laurie remains simply brilliant, and the supporting characters have added a new level of dramatic depth to what has been perceived as an unusually well-scripted procedural show: witness what the writers do with the character of "Cutthroat Bitch" (a House nickname for one of the job candidates) over the course of the season, and you'll have to agree.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 4

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 8/19/2008

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Universal delivers to the House faithful another very nice box set in keeping with the presentation of Seasons Two and Three (Season One still hasn't been reissued in anamorphic widescreen...tsk, tsk). This four-disc set includes all sixteen episodes from the series' fourth season, along with a cool collection of new bonus features. The image is crisp, clear and vibrant, and the surround soundtrack gives added value to the show's sound effects and use of musical montage.

Disc Four houses all of the bonus features. "House's Soap: 'Prescription Passion'" (6:45) is a collection of full clips from Gregory House's favorite TV show...the set would not be complete without this feature, believe me. "New Beginnings" (26:02) series creator David Shore, Omar Epps, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Wilde, Peter Jacobson, Kal Penn, Anne Dudek, executive producer Katie Jacobs, executive producer/writer Thomas L. Moran, executive producer/writer Garrett Lerner, executive producer/friend Russel Friend, Jennifer Morrison, Lisa Edelstein, Jesse Spencer, Robert Sean Leonard

"Meet the Writers" (14:46) returns to Lerner, Moran, and Friend, who describe what it's like to write for the series, as well as the unusual circumstances of the shortened season and a quick turnaround into Season Five. It's surprising that "The Visual Effects of House" (15:28) hasn't already been done as a special feature, so let's call it overdue. Shore, visual effects supervisor Elan Soltes, Encore Hollywood managing director Barbara Marshall, Encore Hollywood 3D supervisor Mitch Gates, and Encore Hollywood senior Inferno artist Edward Black go back to the beginning to explain how special effects have played an important role in the show over the past four seasons; copious examples illustrate their points.

"Anatomy of a Scene: The Bus Crash" (5:47) shows us how the crash was filmed on a soundstage, with comments by director Greg Yaitanes, Jacobs, Dudek, and stunt coordinator Jim Vickers. One of the questions actors most frequently get asked is "Which is your favorite?", in reference to films, shows, episodes, or characters. "My Favorite Episode So Far..." (6:48) puts the question to Laurie, Jacobs, Shore, Wilde, Jacobson, Penn, Dudek, Edelstein, Epps, Spencer, and Morrison. Predictably (and with tongue in cheek) Laurie gives the artist's stock response, but the rest all pony up straight answers.

Lastly, for a more in-depth look at the thinking behind the season's most-important episode, Universal include a "House's Head" commentary with creator/executive producer David Shore and executive producer Katie Jacobs. The showrunners have a nice rapport as they explain how they arrived at the storyline and what it took to execute it. Even with a reduced episode count, Season Four of House is still a good value and guaranteed entertainment.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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