House: "Family Practice"
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House: "Family Practice"

I don't know if they ever came up with a name for it, but there's a trick writers of The Simpsons would use that they talk about a lot on the episode commentaries. A good many storylines for that show revolved around Homer being mean or stupid for 19 minutes, but then, in the final minute, he'd somehow redeem himself with an action of generosity that didn't really change anything. Logically, this shouldn't have worked, and in the hands of weaker writers, it wouldn't have. (For examples, see most everything the show did from oh, say, season 15 on.) But it did work, because we wanted to believe, at heart, that Homer really was a good guy underneath all of it, that even though his laziness and selfishness sometimes got the better of him, he honestly did love his wife and his kids and would do anything for them. There was enough truth there that it didn't need to be precisely logical to work. 

Maybe House could have pulled off that kind of ending in its first few years. It certainly got a lot of mileage out of the occasional moments of vulnerability we got from Hugh Laurie. These days, though, we're not so much interested in redeeming House (honestly, I never really thought he needed to be redeemed, but that was the arc for a long time) or debating how the world works. These days, it's all about soap opera, sentiment, and shocks. Laurie remains terrific in the role, and other actors occasionally turn in good work, but they can't overcome the weak, wishy-washy material. Sand off some of the character names, slap in some blandly pretty faces, and there's no reason why the script for "Family Practice" wouldn't have just as well in any other medical series currently airing. There's no personality here. It's just a lot of fireworks to distract you from nothing much at all.

Let's take the two major plotlines this week. In the first, and most prominent, one, Cuddy's mother gets sick with cobalt poisoning. That's really it. Oh sure, you can talk about all the INCREDIBLY DRAMATIC moments between her falling ill, and House realizing the cause, but it's funny—you'll notice how none of those moments had any consequences whatsoever. The rainstorms may have fooled you while they were happening, or else Foreman's increasingly horrified reaction to House's decisions may have convinced you the good doctor had finally gone full Frankenstein on us. Or maybe Martha vomiting her guts out at the thought of facing down her boss and throwing her career away might have made you think, oh, they aren't kidding around anymore. And yet, at the end of the episode nothing is different. Mrs. Cuddy is still alive (sigh), Martha is still on the team, House still has his license, and Cuddy still has her job. I don't expect seismic changes every episode, and I certainly wouldn't hold it against the show if it just tried to tell an interesting, self-contained story without needing to bring about the end of the world. But nearly every scene in "Practice" had people screaming at each other about dire consequences, and there was absolutely no need for it. A modest plot about Candice Bergen's loathsome maternal harridan falling ill, and then insulting us all by not dying. That was it.

Of course, stripping away the theatrics doesn't really help, because it's all idiocy underneath as well. Mrs. Cuddy remains horrible, a mean, hateful caricature whose sole redeeming virtue is that she, um... I got nothing. She's awful, and no one needs another awful mother-in-law type character on television. Her relationship with Cuddy is ugly and dull, and throwing a sister into the mix certainly didn't help matters. (Paula Marshall? You give us Paula Marshall, and then give her maybe three lines? I guess we should be expecting her to resurface somewhere down the road.) That Cuddy would ask House to be the attending physician is a painful contradiction of one of the few consistent aspects of her character: her staunch adherence to medical ethics. The idea that House is the only doctor anywhere who could have come up with "cobalt poisoning" is absurd, as is his increased obsession with treating the mom; we're supposed to assume he's trying to please Cuddy, but it mostly just seems an excuse for him to come up with a lot of horrible ideas, and then ignore Foreman. And what the hell was going on with Martha? House keeps her on at the end because he wants her to stop him from doing things that would get Cuddy fired. Huh, amazing how well that worked this episode. In fact, just having Martha around seemed to make things worse. Why would she even stay with this job? Surely there are other places that wouldn't force her to betray her boss to maintain her own personal code of ethics. 

Then there's the second plot, Taub's bizarre job offer from his soon-to-be-ex-wife's lawyer brotherMichael Gladis, aka Paul Kinsey of Mad Men. Gladis isn't very good here, but the character doesn't make much sense. Taub comes down with a case of ethics when he sees a possible brain bleed in an x-ray, only he's wrong. Then Gladis smashed his head into a urinal. (Wonder if Taub managed to break his back teeth.) None of this was anything, really. Gladis should get his ass sued out of existence, and why pin this kind of storyline on Taub, anyway? Give Chase something to do. Smash his face for once.

This was just miserable, and worse, it was insultingly grabby about its awfulness, constantly shoving itself in your face and yelling at full volume. This current iteration of House is a mediocre to bad show. Sometimes, it surfaces briefly with something worthwhile, but that's rare. I generally let the tedium slide by, because even when it's terrible, it's fun watching Laurie amble about. But this was wretched, and not all the emo pop and hugs in the world are going to change that. 

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