Universal // 2008 // 704 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 19th, 2008
One Sick Bastard
Another year, and another season of everyone's favorite medical misanthrope. Season Four was a tough one for House, with the disappearance of his team at the end of Season Three and a looming writers' strike which left many fans biting their nails. Luckily, both situations are resolved satisfactorily, with a new team by the end of this (sadly truncated) season. Although the creators mixed it up a lot this time out, everything fans have come to love is still present in House, M.D.: Season Four
With the departure of his team, House is in a bit of a funk and Cuddy keeps insisting that he hire a new group of three doctors to assist him. Instead, he hires forty new doctors and develops an elaborate system of games based on patient diagnosis to narrow the field down to the needed three. I won't give anything significant away, but those who like House's old team won't do without them this season, although the search for a new team takes center stage.
The season's 16 episodes are on four discs, with all the extras on the fourth disc:
* "The Right Stuff"
* "97 Seconds"
* "Guardian Angels"
* "Mirror, Mirror"
* "Whatever It Takes"
* "You Don't Want to Know"
* "It's a Wonderful Life"
* "Don't Ever Change"
* "No More Mr. Nice Guy"
* "Living the Dream"
* "House's Head"
* "Wilson's Heart"
Note that the first two discs have five episodes a piece. I wasn't paying attention and assumed that with 16 episodes on four discs, there would be four episodes per disc. I hit "play all" on Disc One and hit stop after the fourth episode, skipping "Mirror, Mirror." It took me a few episodes to realize my mistake, so be aware of the episodes' distribution.
If the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was the theme song for the first three seasons of House M.D., then David Bowie's "Changes" is the anthem for Season Four. The creators knew that after three seasons the formula was no longer fresh, and they wrote themselves into a serious corner with the climax of Season Three. I was in quite a state, hoping that Season Four would change the show enough to keep it interesting, but not change House so much it became a different show. Luckily, from the first episode on, I knew my faith in the writers was well-founded. Season Four updates the formula and adds new drama, but doesn't forget the relationships that made the first three seasons a success.
Season Four is all about pushing, both House and the format of the show. We've seen patients contradict House before (Elias Koteas' turn in Season Two comes to mind). However, in no other season do patients undermine House's maxims (like "Everybody lies") than they do in this season. From a converted Jew to a man who's always happy, the writers were great about coming up with characters who could be credible antidotes to House's cynical worldview.
But it's not just House who gets pushed; the writers also tackle the format of the show. Yes, it's still very much illness-of-the-week, but there's a lot more play going on this season. Obviously the elimination games (and their inherent competition) heighten the drama, but the show also tackles different formats. We see a very interesting long-distance diagnosis, House being spirited away for a consult with the CIA, and an episode where a documentary crew follows the team as they try to save a boy's life. There's nothing particularly remarkable in the cases themselves, but the writers keep it fresh by changing the audience's relationship to the team and its diagnoses.
The introduction of new blood into the mix could also have been a disaster. Luckily, all the new recruits, both those who stay and those who don't, are fine actors. They all have their own motivation for being on House's team, and the actors make their characters totally believable. Sadly, however, the old team (including Cuddy and Wilson) doesn't get quite as much to do this season (I expect that would have been remedied if the show had completed its 24-episode arc), but when they're around they maintain the high level of skill we've come to expect from the show.
The writer's strike forced the shutdown of production after Episode 12, and the creators had to fight to make the other four episodes of the season. Thank goodness they fought, since these four episodes contain two of the best in the show's history. The two-part season finale (which should have been the Super Bowl episode) is an amazing piece of television. The two shows simultaneously raise the stakes for every character on the show, while also undermining many of the relationships we've come to rely on. It's shocking, powerhouse drama at its finest.
The presentation of this season doesn't disappoint either. The video quality isn't perfect, with a little bit of noise here and there, but this is a strong overall transfer from excellent materials. The audio fares slightly better, with a fine balance of dialogue and music. The extras are mostly EPK-style material, but I found them enjoyable. The season overview, "New Beginnings," gives a nice perspective on all the season's changes, featuring interviews with the cast and creators, while "Meet the Writers" is pretty self-explanatory. The "Visual Effects" and "Anatomy of a Scene" give interesting perspectives on the nuts and bolts of television production. We even get a featurette on House's soap, which is a fun little extra. However, the producers' commentary (on the spectacular "House's Head" episode) is the extra most fans will turn to, with lots of details about the episode and characters.
The season finale was a doozy, but it came off a little forced from an emotional perspective. I felt like all the actors played it perfectly, but the ending assumed too much audience identification. I suspect that viewers will fall into two camps, depending on how they feel about the newer characters on the show. Also, because of the shorter season (and its dramatic ending), it feels less like a complete season in its own right and more like a springboard for Season Five.
The back of the box contains spoilers (I won't mention their nature since I don't want to give anything away myself). Considering the popularity of TV on DVD, you'd think studios would know by now not to assume that everyone who buys the season box sets has seen all the episodes. Shame on Universal.
I don't watch enough television to say that House is the best drama out there, but I do know that if there's a better show available I don't think I could take it. Season Four has kept the bar high and significantly raised the stakes for all the characters going into the (hopefully longer) Season Five. The technical and supplemental aspects of this release make it easy to recommend to fans of the series.
Not guilty. Get me Season Five STAT.
Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 704 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "House's Soap: Prescription Passion"
* "New Beginnings"
* "Meet the Writers"
* "The Visual Effects of House"
* "Anatomy of a Scene: The Bus Crash"
* "My Favorite Episode So Far..."
* "House's Head" Commentary with Creator/Executive Producer David Shore and Executive Producer Katie Jacobs
* Official Site