Dr Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is head of diagnostic medicine at Princeton Plainsboro Hospital and he is a right handful for his superiors. Antisocial, misanthropic, sexist, intolerant, addicted to painkillers, wildly unpredictable and also quite brilliant. In this eighth and final season we initially find him in prison, having crashed his car into the house of his former boss and partner at the end of season seven. He soon engineers his release and begins to reassemble his team, having seemingly learned nothing from his incarceration. Still unpleasant, still hugely conflicted, still an utter genius.
House has proved to be a huge success during its impressive run. Although the pressure to continue to come up with bizarre and outlandish explanations for the various medical afflictions that form the core of each episode, along with the seeming absence of any redemptive or transformative arc for House might have crippled a lesser show, it has managed to remain compelling and affecting and even relatively fresh, despite House’s persistent unkindness testing the commitment of his colleagues.
The template for this season is much as before. House recruits a couple of new faces to his department and manages to claw back a couple of familiar ones who had managed to get away from him (albeit temporarily) and then proceeds to torment, ridicule and manipulate them for his own supercilious amusement. What has developed (although the very strong writing manages to steer clear of trite Damascene moments) are a few astute digs beneath House’s calloused exterior. It’s not as if he suddenly (or even gradually) becomes a new man. He is still a selfish, rude pig, but a few episodes chip away at his psyche and show glimpses of fragility, need, remorse and even something approaching genuine love, without feeling forced or mawkish. Actors like Omar Epps (Dr Foreman, now Dean of the hospital) and Jesse Spencer (Chase) have inhabited their roles for nearly a decade now and play them excellently with all of the shades of grey you would expect from a show that has lived with them for that long. They each get side stories that play out over the season, without this final season descending into the sort of soap operatics seen in other, lesser medical dramas. We know about and care about these characters and they feel like flesh and blood, but the main focus remains on House himself and the assorted unfortunate patients that cross his path each week.
The new recruits to his team, Odette Annable (young, pretty, idealistic Dr Adams) and Charlyne Yi (young, bright, nerdish Dr Park) both give good accounts of themselves. They necessarily feel less fleshed out than the characters that we have been with for several years (Taub makes a welcome return) and perhaps are written in order to provide slightly too obvious ammunition for House’s scathing tongue, but it is his show after all.
So how about the individual episodes? As always they are a mixed bag. None of them are anything less than very good, with the season opener Twenty Vicodin, mid-season high-point Nobody’s Fault and the grand finale Everybody Dies standing out in particular. In reality, the final two episodes provide a two-part finale, drilling down into House’s friendship with Wilson and then brilliantly peeling back the layers of House’s psyche, drawing out from him some admissions that we never thought we would hear. It manages to be a devastating, heart-rending, uplifting, hope-filled, melancholy round-up of eight years of character-driven brilliance.
Some may find the endless cycle of diagnoses, suggestions, escalating symptoms and eventual Eureka moment repetitive, but that is the show’s formula and for better or for worse the show has commendably stuck with it. If you like it, you’ll continue to like it. If not, watch Grey’s Anatomy instead. There are times when the merest nod of a head or glance from Laurie conveys enormous amounts of emotion and meaning and he is of course absolutely fundamental to the show’s continued and prolonged success. His 2 Golden Globes (4 further nominations) and multiple Emmy nominations testify to the consistency of his work on this show and it is fitting that it wraps up with him dead centre.
A first-rate example of a show not exceeding its sell-by date and instead remaining consistently strong to the end, this is excellent entertainment, compelling drama and thought-provoking throughout. You can buy the season 8 boxset now on DVD or BD and rent it from 21st November. And you should.
Extras: Small in number, big in quality and running time. There is a documentary by Hugh Laurie about the show as a whole, described as a memoir, which is light-hearted in tone but interesting and detailed. A second featurette looks at the episode Laurie directed and his experiences of that process, which he seems to have greatly enjoyed and finally the season finale is given a behind the scenes treatment. All three docs are over 30 minutes in length and represent good value for novices and devoted fans alike.