“House” could well be one of those development stories where the operation is successful but the patient still dies. A well-made medical hour with an intriguing star, the show feels somewhat mismatched with Fox’s lineup and instantly stale based on its resemblance to NBC’s “Medical Investigation,” which was clearly grown in the same Petri dish. Despite a strong creative pedigree, there’s also cause for skepticism over whether viewers will bond with an ill-tempered doctor who makes a habit of avoiding patients, unless people are more thrilled with their HMOs than polls indicate.
British actor Hugh Laurie plays the title character, a brilliant diagnostician who regularly pops pain killers for his crippled leg (he walks with a cane) and shuns patients. Sure, there’s a caring streak, but it’s buried pretty deep, as House prefers the Sherlock Holmes-like sleuthing to ascertain what ails people to comforting or interacting with them.
Hard on his staff and rude to boss (Lisa Edelstein), House’s turn-ons include watching soap operas and concocting elaborate excuses to avoid the clinic connected to the teaching hospital where you’ll otherwise find him.
“House doesn’t believe in pretense … so he just says what he thinks,” one subordinate explains to a new arrival, well played by Omar Epps.
Still, if House himself, as gruffly embodied by Laurie without a trace of his native accent, is a decidedly un-Marcus Welby-type TV doctor, everything else about the show feels utterly familiar — from the officious boss to the attractive, diverse team House assembles to work under him.
In addition, the premiere finds a schoolteacher (Robin Tunney) falling inexplicably ill, and in standard “CSI” fashion we’re treated to computer-generated journeys up her nose, down her throat and into her brain. About the only thing missing from this “Fantastic Voyage” is Raquel Welch in a spacesuit.
Feature director Bryan Singer brings tight pacing to the two episodes made available, with the second focusing on a young man stricken by an equally mysterious disease after a highly athletic round of sex. Yet despite the solid cast, including Epps and Jennifer Morrison as a doctor House says he hired for her looks, this is pretty by-the-numbers storytelling, albeit in a glossy package.
Given that this medical drama replaces the modestly rated “24” it’s doubtful anyone expects Nielsen miracles, and Simon Cowell has demonstrated that the Fox audience will embrace a snotty and insulting perfectionist Tuesday nights. Nevertheless, the show will likely need a bit of good fortune to hang on until “American Idol” returns in January, providing the kind of buoyant lead-in that could actually make “House’s” timeslot a home.