House's New Formula for Excellence

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The sixth season of House has been off to an oddball start. When our good doctor quickly kicked his Vicodin habit and was magically cured of, well, himself, I was a bit worried. The show was still all kinds of crazy, but it didn't feel like the addictive medical mystery I've been watching for the last five years. Thankfully, it's getting easier to see where the writers are going, and Season 6 is shaping up to be the best one yet.

At the start of this season, the show focused more on House's mind than on anything else. Usually, the doctors who surround him and the crazy cases they encounter provide most of Hugh Laurie's material, but the first few episodes treated the rest of the diagnostic team like guest stars. The group -- now led by Foreman (Omar Epps) -- continued to deal with cases, but they've been little more than background noise. The most compelling storylines centered on House's struggle for normalcy after leaving the mental institution, including his search for a new addiction -- he tried cooking -- and living with the persisting pain in his leg.

And then, two episodes ago, an African despot (played by James Earl Jones) was admitted to Princeton-Plainsboro and the one-patient-per-episode formula returned. Surprisingly, it hasn't gotten stale. Instead, it's providing a bit of familiarity and clarity. House's hospital and colleagues are the same as always, but House has changed -- and the return of the old structure underlines just how different he is. He's less sharp with colleagues (though he's getting his edge back), and after his brief experience with psychiatric care, he's more willing to treat his patients as people and less like equations. He doesn't mock patients on their death beds nearly as much as he used to.

Combining the old structure with a new focus on trying to understand (and not just further complicate) House's mind has taken the show in a new direction. Last night's episode was no exception. After House heard Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) whispering to his deceased girlfriend before bed, House tried tried talking to his recently-deceased father -- and showed a vulnerable side we've never seen before. It was the first truly honest moment we've seen. Meanwhile, the patient-is-still-alive autopsy case was gruesome, awesome, and totally characteristic of the old format. We love the more sophisticated storylines, and we're happy to have the medical mysteries back. What do you think?

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