Shows have concepts that get them started, but the longer they run, the more a strict adherence to that premise starts to seem less like a natural development of characters and their world and more a foregone conclusion to satisfy producers and a network. There's no real, believable reason that House is still working at Plainsboro at this point. Even if we accept Foreman's promotion, House is a major liability who, if anything, has gotten worse with age. There's no indication he has any interest in self-improvement, he alienates most of the rest of the hospital staff, and he routinely flouts policy and medical law. Also, he just got out of jail. Being good enough to solve the weird cases was enough to justify his presence in the first few years, but now, it's hard to deny that the only reason House continues to have a job at Plainsboro is that the show needs a place to put him where it can keep using the same sets and most of the same cast.
I mention this not as a criticism, but to point out one of the ways in which this current season of House is surprising me. In a good way. Sure, I could rail about how implausible all of this is, because the show continues to be completely ridiculous, but I think, at this point, the reality boat has sailed. The series has always had a somewhat tenuous connection to the real world, and essentially forgiving the lead character after he drove a car into his ex-lover's home in fit of jealous rage is about as definitive a shark jumping moment as any I can remember. Except, well, last season of House was a pretty dour affair, with lots of angst and misery and romantic woe. If a shark was jumped in this show, it happened before House ever hit the gas and made a hard left into the living room. What this season has done is embrace the absurdity in a way that makes it fair less painful to watch. More than that: I've laughed more these past few episodes than I can remember laughing at the show in a long time, only I'm not laughing at, I'm laughing with. If nothing else, we now have hard proof of how much a drain the Huddying was on the series. With all due respect to Lisa Edelstein, her absence has done House a world of good.
That's not to say this is suddenly a classic drama or anything. I don't intend to backtrack on the faint praise of the preceding paragraph, but it's also important to keep expectations at a certain level. Characters still tend to talk like debate team opponents, and House is often a dick for no more reason than, hey, that's the only thing the writers can think of for him to be anymore. The main patient in this week's episode, "The Confession," is, as has often been the case in the past few years, not particularly memorable. Happy as I am to see Jamie Bamber, his struggles with infidelity and a neurological affliction that cause him to first confess, and then make up, sins, is less a focus than an intermittently interesting running gag. Oh look, the handsome man's neck is bulging. Oh look, the handsome man is losing his skin. We got some tension in a scene where Bamber tells the people of his hometown who apparently worship him that he's been rooking them over for years, and it was never a tedious story, but I think it's safe to say that the PotW structure, while still a linchpin of the show, isn't the reason to watch anymore.
Then again, it hasn't really been for a couple years now. Instead, we have House playing mind games and the staff working against, around, and occasionally with him. What impressed me tonight was how each subplot turned out far more entertainingly than they really had any right too. Taub and Chase are back, which is both inevitable and welcome, and there's some awkwardness between them and Foreman, who is now the boss, and, as such, difficult to trust. Taub is apparently watching his two sons, and House is determined to find out if they're both really his. Then there's the construction going on in House's newly liberated office. What's he building in there? Or rather, what has he hired a group of men we never see to build in there? Foreman is worried, so Foreman hasn't been leaving the hospital lately.
Silly, right? I can kind of see how Taub and Chase would rag Foreman; that's believable behavior between three men who worked for a while as equals. But House's obsession over the babies' paternity, and, more importantly, Taub's susceptibility to that obsession, is a little out of left field. There was nothing to indicate last season that the babies weren't his, so why have any doubts? And the builders between the sheet of plastic is a goofy mystery. It's hard to imagine House getting away with too much without Foreman finding out about it. And yet, all these stories worked, I think, because each of them embraced their absurdities to differing degrees. Chase and Foreman talked about House playing games, and Chase gave Foreman the info he wanted, because hey, that's what Chase does, and it was harmless enough, and these guys have a history. I'm not sure just how much Taub was playing a long game against House with the DNA testing, but House's hospital-wide pool over the babies' daddy led to the hilarious sight of Wilson trying to snag some DNA from Taub's fork, and it also ended with Taub winning, which worked out nicely. And the construction led to the biggest laugh of the night: Part of the wall on the far side of the office lifts up to reveal Wilson's office. Just the look on Robert Sean Leonard's face made this worth the effort. This is a House I'd be happy to watch on a weekly basis: implausible, occasionally dumb, maybe a bit on the pandering side, but with a minimum of angst, and a lot of humour. It's fun now. Isn't that nice?