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When our intrepid leader Mr. Phipps first announced the list of shows we'd be covering here at the Club, House was the omission that raised the most eyebrows: After all, it's America's favorite medical mystery series, featuring America's favorite functional drug addict. In fact, I offered to take House when the staff divvied up assignments a month or so ago, but we came to a group decision that procedurals would be too tough to write about on a week-in/week-out basis, because the stories and characters don't change much.

Of course House fans–myself included–would argue that this particular procedural breaks the rules. It's packed with subplots and unexpected twists, like last season's climactic dismissal of Dr. House's entire staff. But let's be honest with ourselves, fellow House-ies: The show really only ever presents the illusion of change, before returning the characters to the status quo, only slightly worse for having adventured outside their prescribed roles. Even our hero–still masterfully played by Hugh Laurie–has seen his limp cured and pill-addiction beaten back, only to have both return with a cruel vengeance. Really, for the first three seasons, House has succeeded primarily by taking a winning formula and then shuffling its elements around so that it won't seem quite so predictable.

That's the game afoot in the fourth season premiere. Left without his team of hot young diagnostic specialists, House tries to prove to his boss Cuddy and closest friend Wilson that he can do his job all by himself. This week's victim: A young woman undergoing a variety of weird symptoms after living through a building collapse. House first insists–as he always does–that there's nothing here out of the ordinary. Then, as the patient's body fails to respond the way he expects it to, House digs up all kinds of embarrassing secrets about her that her boyfriend didn't know: She was on anti-depressants; she was an alcoholic; she recently had an abortion; etc. It's the standard House stew: A string of crazy treatments that prove the fallibility of doctors, and a string of surprising revelations that prove that people are either fundamentally dishonest or fundamentally delusional.

The switcheroo is that Cuddy has instructed the entire hospital duty roster to ignore House, because she doesn't want to "enable" his habit of bouncing ideas off of people, unless those people are officially part of the staff he keeps refusing to hire. So House corrals a janitor (whom he nicknames "Dr. Buffer") for impromptu brainstorming sessions; and without lackeys to do his legwork for him, House has to personally break into the patient's house and paw through her stuff, with Wilson's help. In the end, a few crucial delays and mistakes convince House that he needs some eyes and ears he can trust, and so the formula-play of "House alone" gives way to next week's formula-play of "House with three-dozen job applicants by his side." (By the way, I've seen next week's episode, and it's far more entertaining than this week's episode…and this week wasn't exactly a loser.)

What's missing from House's return is the sense of danger that Season Three courted. We're back to the "cuddly misanthrope" House, not the pill-popping sociopath. Which may be for the best. Last season brought House perilously close to the dead end that's been looming over the series from the moment the creators established their hero was never going to change. So far, this season looks like it's going to drop the painful soul-searching for a while, and shoot for something more fun. Ultimately, that choice may make House finally become just another procedural, though if past history is any indication, the House team will rearrange the furniture again before the room starts to look too familiar.

So, will I continue to blog House on a weekly basis? No. Let's call this one a special case: I'll be watching every week, because I'm a fan. But I'm only going to write about an episode if it's a real standout–like something on the Season One "Three Stories" level. Like House himself, it's going to take a lot of persuading to roust me out of my office for just another patient.

Grade: B

Stray observations

-Are there any procedurals with a better cold open than House? Waiting to figure out which of the strangers we've just met will turn out to be the patient–and what will turn out to be wrong with him or her–is almost as much fun as anything that happens in the rest of the show.

-Great House/Wilson exhange:

House: "If you're broke, I can lend you 20 out of the money I owe you."

Wilson: "No, I wouldn't put you in that position."

-Great House/Cuddy exchange:

Cuddy: "Where did you come from?"

House: "Apes, if you believe the Democrats."

-If House is Holmes and Wilson is Watson, will there ever be a Moriarty?