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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

House: "5 To 9"

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Okay, I think I've finally pinned down what infuriates me about House's insistence on a House/Cuddy pairing. I suspected this before, but watching "5 to 9" (Wordplay!) gave me the actual proof I needed to clarify my discontent. House and Cuddy have a couple of dialog scenes, revolving mostly around Cuddy's long shot play with an insurance company, and their chemistry in those scenes is, by and large, solid. Maybe a little too "Mommy disapproves" (although sometimes I think if Cuddy lost that angle, she'd disappear entirely), but they were both talking like adults. The problem with the House/Cuddy romance so far is that as soon as the writers decide its time for something overt to happen, the two characters stop being themselves. Hugh Laurie can cover, because he's been giving far more to work with over the years, but it still comes down to sappy, unconvincing melodrama. The only way I could believe them together is if House didn't have to stop being House to fall in love. Because what's the fun in watching the show then?

Really, though, "5 to 9" was all about Lisa Cuddy, put upon hospital administrator, sexually disappointed girlfriend, and all around super mom. Like last December's "Wilson," this week took the Rosencrantz & Guildensterin approach to Plainsboro, following Cuddy from morning to night on one of the more important days of her career. There's the baby to juggle, hospital politics, House's shenanigans, and, most importantly, negotiations with Atlanticnet, the insurance company that Plainsboro contracts with. That contract is expiring, and Cuddy wants a better deal for her hospital. More, she believes they deserve it, and Atlanticnet can afford it. The big question is, can she make them agree with her before the end of the episode?

"Wilson" worked because it gave us familiar settings from a different angle. "5 to 9" plays the same tricks, but it's not quite as successful, because we know some of what to expect. The few things we hear about House's current case are clever enough, but mostly just had me wishing the episode was about that. And is anyone really surprised that Cuddy is overworked, that she spends too much time cleaning up for House's mistakes, that it's stressful being a single parent and working a demanding, challenging job? At least in "Wilson," we got some better understanding about what drives our favorite oncologist to be so painfully sincere; it's his response to the death and loss he sees every day. In "5 to 9," we get more face time with Cuddy, and she's less of a cypher than usual, but her true nature remains tantalizingly out of reach.

Still, I do love this gimmick, and diminished returns or not, "5 to 9" managed to get in some good scenes. Lucas is, as always, insufferable, and for once, I actually found myself wishing that House and Cuddy had hooked up after all, since that seems like the only thing that would've stopped the unstoppable Private Dick from stepping in. (Actually, he's not quite unstoppable.) But it was nice seeing Cuddy taking a risk and, in the end, winning on her own terms. Like "Wilson," House gives some advice, but Cuddy ends up solving her problems with her own strength of will, and that's the only way a conceit like this will work.

As for the various subplots she grinds through, your appreciation depends on your tolerance for hospital melodrama. The jabs at the screwed up state of medical insurance were appropriate and not overly didactic—I liked the guy who wanted to sue the hospital for successfully re-attaching his thumb—and the pharmacy theft was mostly memorably for the stone cold nastiness of the thief. The constant reminders that Cuddy was a woman were unnecessary, given her current predilection for distracting low-cut tops, and also had an unfortunate tendency to remind the audience that, at this point, Cuddy's major character trait is that she's a single mom with a high level job. I wanted to like "5 to 9" more, and if I had to go out on a limb, I'd say I'm probably going to get criticized for not embracing it as much as I did "Wilson," but distracting us isn't the same as fixing a problem. It works for a little while, but when House comes back next week, Lucas will still be Lucas, and Cuddy will still be playing Den Mother. Who cares?

Stray Observations:

  • "Hear you got a sick kid. I know what that's like. Or I should say my wife does." Dick!
  • House, being all self-aware: "Go talk to Wilson about something completely unrelated and see what happens?"
  • "Ever notice how many porn sites have 'Mom' in the domain name?"
  • House getting a massage was… surprising.
  • Man, that pull back when Cuddy shouted "Yes!" was cheesy as hell.