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'House' uninterrupted: A crackling pleasure

April 18, 2007 | 12:35 pm

House Isn't it nice when your favorite show actually airs for weeks on a regular basis with no "special events," illness-as-metaphor motifs or other sweeps week tinkerings? Four great "Houses" in a row prove how strong the show is when left to its basics -- a medical mystery conceit that is dominated by Hugh Laurie's provocative character, whose actions illuminate the various strengths and flaws of his colleagues.

Last night we got the whole shebang -- child in peril, possible parental abuse, cool neuron graphics and a whole lot of fun personal subplots for the rest of the cast. A little girl collapses at day care, with grown-up symptoms -- heart problems, ovarian cysts, etc. Meanwhile, Drs. Chase and Cameron (Jesse Spencer and Jennifer Morrison, respectively) snip and snarl at each other as their sex-only relationship hits the skids after Chase says he wants more. (While it's been fun watching Cameron play the horn dog -- especially since the two actors recently announced their engagement -- it was rather out of character, but hey, we all have those days.)

House's strange, recent fascination with Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) also continues -- when Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) takes her to the theater, House grills him on what happened, after allowing Wilson to at last have the baiting upper-hand. "OK, I slept with her." "Seriously?" "No." "Seriously?" "Yes." "Seriously?" "No." (How we love Leonard, especially on the days when he isn't forced to do either the hangdog devotee or the moralizing parent figure.)

In the last several episodes, Cuddy too has been allowed to get the best of House. Two weeks ago, Cuddy insisted they could save both mother and baby in a too-complicated-to-explain-here case, and they did. (She got her comeuppance last week when, in-flight with House, she joined the panic-reaction psychosis of other passengers after a young man became violently ill. But still.)

The writers have long toyed with a romantic relationship between Cuddy and House, and it makes perfect sense -- she is the only one who seems able to accept House as he is, to give almost as good as she gets and to let most of his barbs fall where they may. How Edelstein can play this in a believable way is the point where acting moves from skill to art.

It's a relief to have some of the spotlight turned from House himself. Although he remains the center of the show, the relentless excavation of his psyche that had marked previous episodes was getting rather wearisome. The shows that are the most satisfying are when the cast is given better business to attend to than the constant care and feeding of House -- Cuddy's attempt to get pregnant, Cameron's attempts to get tough, Wilson's various peccadilloes give the show its necessary depth and allow the main character to reveal himself in a way that does not seem like gun-to-the-head therapy.

(Photo courtesy Fox)