TV Review: 'House' Fourth Season Premiere

There has long been debate in the "House" fan community over the importance of the cottages (condos?) to the overall success of the show, whether Hugh Laurie has ever actually needed Jennifer Morrison, Omar Epps and Jesse Spencer or whether those supporting players will just complimentary pieces.

Deciding to put that question to the test, the "House" creative team ended the show's third season with a heck of a cliffhanger: As the closing credits rolled in May, the good doctor had either fired or taken resignations from all three members of his team. Where -- fans could be heard wondering -- would the show go?

The first thing fans have to know is that Epps, Spencer and Morrison are not gone for good. Even if I were capable of spoiling the hows, whys and whens of their return, though, I wouldn't dare. Suffice to say that through the two episodes sent to critics this fall, the return is still very much a work-in-progress. Suffice to say also that through those first two episodes, I've scarcely missed the cottages at all.

Even though Tuesday's (Sept. 25) premiere is titled "Alone," true fans of the show know that even if Morrison, Epps and Spencer are off doing their own things, Laurie is still far from alone. In the absence of his younger co-stars, Laurie starts his season off with an episode that's heavy on both Lisa Edelstein's Cuddy and Robert Sean Leonard's Wilson. One of the myriad Emmy disappointments each season is that while Laurie deservedly gets most of the attention, Edelstein and Leonard are rarely mentioned.

In "Alone," House is treating a woman crushed in a building collapse. Although that wee external factor may have something to do with what ails her, the problems seem to go far deeper. Of course, without his team, House has difficulties doing his typical diagnostic work, forcing him to seek help from a most unlikely and most hilarious of sources, a Dr. Buffer. Meanwhile, both Wilson and Cuddy are taking different approaches to forcing House's hand when it comes to hiring a new team. Without minions running tests and attempting to treat the patient, the season's first case isn't procedurally interesting (the ending is touching, but the process forgettable).

By the season's second episode, House is, indeed, seeking out replacements for Foreman, Chase and Cameron, but his actual methodology is fantastically House-ian. Again, "House" may be Laurie's show, but the fertility of the collaborative environment is evident in just how easily guest stars like Kal Penn, Olivia Wilde and Peter Jacobson are integrated into the perfectly pitched tone. And thanks to the addition of these fresh potential diagnosticians, the season's second case -- something about an aspiring astronaut who needs her case kept on the downlow, forcing House to refer to her as "Osama Bin Laden" -- is more dramatically fruitful than the first.

Sherlock Holmes -- House's oft-referenced literary antecedent -- probably didn't need Watson to solve individual crimes, but it helped the great detective to have the sidekick around in the long-run. Similarly, I'll be perfectly happy to have the cottages back whenever and however they return, the show's ability to survive in their absence, though, is beyond question.

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