Mis­an­thropic medico in su­perbly bad form

House 8.30pm, Ten

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Stephen Romei

I AM a fan of this Amer­i­can med­i­cal drama se­ries, but the early episodes of sea­son three had me wor­ried that Gre­gory House MD had lost his edge. Re­cent episodes, in­clud­ing tonight’s, have al­layed such fears and I’m de­lighted to see the Fox net­work has re­newed House for a fourth sea­son.

The turn­ing point for me was the June 20 episode, Half- Wit , in which a sub­plot had House ( Hugh Lau­rie) en­cour­ag­ing his ador­ing staff to think he had brain can­cer, be­cause he was try­ing to score ex­per­i­men­tal drugs. I’m hop­ing it was the start of House’s de­scent into true dark­ness, a place where his lov­able cur­mud­geon per­sona will fal­ter, leav­ing him shunned by all.

Tonight’s episode, Fe­tal Po­si­tion , does more to but­tress this hope than to un­der­mine it. The prob­lem­atic pa­tient du jour is Emma Sloan, a fa­mous pho­tog­ra­pher who suf­fers a stroke. She is 42, di­vorced and preg­nant via a gay sperm donor with what she hopes will be her first child.

As with all of House’s pa­tients, Sloan ( Anne Ram­say) starts dy­ing as soon as she is ad­mit­ted. ( A health tip: if you ever feel off- colour in New Jer­sey, drive straight past Prince­tonPlains­boro Teach­ing Hospi­tal.) House di­ag­noses a rare con­di­tion known as ma­ter­nal mir­ror syn­drome in which the fe­tus ef­fec­tively kills the mother.

This pro­vides the cen­tral drama: med­i­cal mav­er­ick House wants to play it safe and abort the fe­tus to save the mother. ‘‘ It’s not a baby, it’s a tu­mour,’’ he says. His usu­ally by- the­book boss Lisa Cuddy ( Lisa Edel­stein), also in her 40s and child­less, wants to pull out all stops, page Dr Franken­stein if nec­es­sary, to save mother and child.

Caught neatly in the mid­dle are House’s team, Eric Fore­man ( Omar Epps), Al­li­son Cameron ( Jen­nifer Mor­ri­son) and Robert Chase ( exNeigh­bours pretty boy — and fine ac­tor — Jesse Spencer). As Fore­man puts it when Cuddy fires up the rean­i­ma­tor: ‘‘ Some­body’s got to be Cuddy’s Cuddy.’’

It’s good to see Cuddy’s char­ac­ter move be­yond be­ing the well- groomed and grace­ful butt of House’s jokes ( of­ten about her butt). And the ‘‘ just sex’’ re­la­tion­ship be­tween Cameron and Chase, both of whom are try­ing to make House jeal­ous, is an­other wel­come di­ver­sion from the in­ten­sity of the ti­tle char­ac­ter.

But of course there is no House with­out House. Lau­rie, who has won two Em­mys and been gonged by the Queen since tak­ing on this role, is the dam­aged heart of the show. There is a key scene tonight, in which he per­forms fe­tal surgery, that is corny and emo­tion­ally ma­nip­u­la­tive, but deeply mov­ing none­the­less.

Hospi­tal hor­rors: Hugh Lau­rie as House, cen­tre, with fel­low cast mem­bers

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