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HOUSE: SEASON SIX (FOX)
(Mondays at 8:00/7:00c beginning tonight)
The network's description: "House begins a detox program at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital to get the vicodin out of his system in an attempt to control his hallucinations. House plans to leave the treatment facility once he is clean, but he is strong-armed into staying by his attending physician, Dr. Darryl Nolan (guest star Andre Braugher). Dr. Nolan agrees to write a recommendation to reinstate House's medical license only if House agrees to further treatment. When House is moved to a new ward in the hospital, he develops a close relationship with his new roommate, Alvie (guest star Lin-Manuel Miranda), and Lydia (guest star Franka Potente), a frequent visitor who helps House bend the rules. House asks Alvie to help him uncover incriminating information about Dr. Nolan that would allow him to blackmail his way out of the treatment center and convinces Lydia to loan him her car to sneak out a delusional patient in an attempt by House to undermine Dr. Nolan's course of treatment. But when devastating events ensue, House is humbled into reluctantly accepting help in "Broken," the special two-hour season premiere episode of HOUSE airing Monday, Sept. 21 (8:00-10:01 PM ET/PT) on FOX."
What did they leave out? Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard are the only series regulars to appear in the season opener.
The plot in a nutshell: It genuinely is best that I say no more.
What works: It's easy to hesitate at episodes like this which stray so far from the core mechanics of the show. They're often either cheap Emmy bait or overly self-indulgent exercises. 2008's "Last Resort," also helmed by Katie Jacobs, decidedly fell into the latter category with its "eight extra minutes" turning out to be nothing more than longer montage sequences. And so it was with much trepidation that I dipped my toe into a two-hour season premiere which would not only excise the entire supporting cast but take place entirely outside Princeton-Plainsboro and cover the three-month period since we last saw House check into Mayfield. Thankfully, "Broken" proves to be one of "House's" finest, albeit most unorthodox, installments. For better or worse, it doesn't look or feel like anything we've ever seen from the show before. More importantly it actually manages the impossible - provide an overarching thesis statement for what Gregory House's journey is. After five seasons of taking somewhat inconsistent stabs at what House's problem ultimately is (addiction, narcissism, depression, overcompensation, fear of losing his skills, etc.), fixing it and then watching it blow up again - "Broken" reframes it as follows: at the end of the day we're all broken in one way or another, what are you going to do about it? The answer: all we really can do is apologize to those we've hurt, forgive ourselves and try to move on. The episode then walks us through House's coming to terms with that fact, not to mention the realization that he doesn't have to run to Vicodin or another vice when he can't do all of the above.
The real brilliance of the season premiere however is that the audience purposely gets to stay ahead of things - only to get yanked back by the very reason you're staying ahead. Put House in a new environment and you don't need to be Nostradamus to predict what will happen: he annoys everyone until he gets what he wants. When his usual mix of insults and bad behavior don't work, he turns to blackmail and other schemes. When they don't work he tries to supplant himself as the new authority and tries to do the doctors' jobs better than they can. When for once that doesn't work, and there's real consequences as a result, something unprecedented happens: House discovers that his "way" might not be the answer. It's a truly sucker punch moment that the awesomeness that is Hugh Laurie and the wonderfulness that is David Shore's (and company's) pen sell in such a way that isn't a cheap out or touchy-feely in any way. And it earns it not because it's a neat one-off stunt, it earns it because it was five seasons in the making and this was the two-hour meditation that lead to it, one which really did require to take House out of his element and away from his hospital family. Which reminds me: I'd be remised if I didn't mention Andre Braugher, Franka Potente, Derek Richardson, Megan Dodds and a host of other faces both familiar and unfamiliar who walk into the show and give us a living breathing world for the aforementioned character study within a few minutes time. All in all, "House" often gets taken to task for being the same show each week with few far-reaching consequences. Well, nothing's going to be the same anymore and I wouldn't have it any other way.
What doesn't: The fact that I had doubts going into this in the first place.
The bottom line: Two hours of TV you can't miss.