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Christmas-giving the 'House' way

January 30, 2008 | 11:39 am


It was Christmas in January at ye olde Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital. Not only did we get the first new episode of "House" in weeks, we got one set in December, a time warp courtesy of the writers strike. Fox wisely squirreled away three new eps in the hopes of a week-long ratings blowout, peaking this Sunday when a very special episode of "House" will follow the Super Bowl.

Watching last night, one couldn't help but wonder if this was one of the storylines that was rushed through the writing room in those final pre-strike days. Though heaven knows any new "House" is more than welcome, this one, titled "It's a Wonderful Lie,"  lacked a certain richness, a depth of dialogue, perhaps, than the show normally delivers. With his new four-person team in place -- Foreman, Taub, Kutner and Thirteen -- House is faced with a woman whose hands have inexplicably become paralyzed. Then she goes blind. Convinced, as usual, that the woman is lying about something, House cross-examines her young daughter. While asking questions I'm pretty sure could get him arrested, he finds himself up against the creature he long considered imaginary: a perfectly honest person. What he sees gives even the unflinchable doc pause.

The case seems to turn the show's own conventions upside down, yet it doesn't quite. The mother, played by Janel Moloney, (and isn't it nice to see her again?) lost her own mom to breast cancer that was never mentioned until it was too late, so she swore she would never lie to her own daughter. But of course she has, and the big reveal is not only obvious, it doesn't really go anywhere. Indeed, during the climactic scene, after House performs his "Christmas miracle," no one seems to know quite what to say. Literally. Which left me wondering if perhaps the WGA's call for "pencils down" had come at an extremely bad time.

Or maybe I just missed the point. Heaven knows I've certainly missed "House." And while the B-plot of the newbies participating in a Secret Santa gift exchange in which House has rigged the outcome to keep the competition among them roiling was a bit weak, Dr. Wilson is getting cheekier by the day. "Are we going somewhere?" House asks when his friend strides away down the hall. "No," Wilson answers, "I just know it hurts you." How I love Robert Sean Leonard.

A very fun little narrative with a patient who House "diagnoses" as a prostitute with a "pony show" winds up with a Christmas pageant -- the patient's allergic reaction to a donkey is the result of her role as the blessed virgin. It's always nice to end a Christmas episode with a nativity scene, not to mention the miraculous sight of House in church. A tad strange in January, but hey, we'll take what we can get. Now, on to the Super Bowl.

-- Mary McNamara

(Photo courtesy Fox)