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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

House: "Living The Dream"

Illustration for article titled House: "Living The Dream"
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Illustration for article titled House: "Living The Dream"

Even though the formulaic nature of House means that the show can get dull and frustrating at times, it also means that when the formula gets shaken up even a little, it's all the more exciting. Hence the difference between last week's disappointing episode and this week's cracklingly entertaining one. The POW and his SUS were fairly typical this week, but the evidence-gathering had some new wrinkles, and the show ventured a little outside the themes it's been exhausting lately. (No "can House change?" folderol, thank the maker…though there was still some "if you're wrong, the patient dies!" hoo-hah.)

The POW: Self-doubting soap star Evan Greer (played by Jason Lewis), whom House kidnaps and drugs because he senses that actor might have a tumor, based on…

The SUS: …slower line readings on the show, and the way Greer pauses when he reaches one side of the teleprompter, as though he's having trouble seeing it. In addition, over the course of the episode he exhibits numb-foot, inability to absorb iodine, and spontaneous recitation of old lines from his soap. Oh, and coma.

House goes searching for "medically relevant stuff" around the TV set, while back at the hospital, Cuddy is dealing with a scheduled inspection that will determine the hospital's accreditation and her ongoing employment. It's vital to her that House follow protocol, while it's vital to House that he keep on doing things his way. (And that he get a big-screen HDTV.) Naturally, mistakes are made, Cuddy backs House, and when House turns out to be right by sheer happenstance, the hospital ends up paying a heavy fine (though both Cuddy and the hospital remain open for business).

All of the above is well-handled, but kind of par for the course as House stories go. What I enjoyed more were the C- and D-stories. In the C, Wilson and CB are buying a new mattress together, and the painfully neurotic Wilson second-guesses every choice he makes, wondering whether he's supposed to pick the mattress his new girlfriend would like, or to please himself for a change. (When Wilson says he's always wanted a waterbed, but feels like he doesn't deserve it, House says, "I'm ignoring you, because you make me sad.") Ultimately, against all odds and House warnings, it turns out that CB really does want Wilson to be happy. The ramifications of that should be interesting, because Wilson seems to thrive on misery.

As for the D-story–so minor that it's barely there–it has to do with Cameron hanging around the diagnosticians, offering suggestions and scoldings. She's there because Cuddy wants her to get House's charts cleaned up for the inspectors, but in a quiet, somewhat moving scene, she admits that she misses the puzzles (but most definitely does not miss House). She even winks to we home viewers (who miss her as well) by making a joke about how House hired 13 to replace her.

Maybe this is a reach, but I'd lump in that remark about 13 with what I see as the surprisingly subtle theme of "Living The Dream" (which, as always with House, is tipped off by the title). A lot of this episode is specifically about people who seem incapable of being happy with lots in life that others would envy: being a TV star, being a doctor, being in love, and so on. But it's even more specifically about television, and its various veils of illusions. House is obsessed with Evan's soap in part because it's ridiculous–at one point, the actor tips House off that his character's girlfriend is pregnant with twins…"one's mine, one's Julio's"–and in part because it's so involving. From 13's off-hand comment that she may have dated one of the actresses on the show to House drinking along with Evan's character as he watches, the line between reality and fantasy keeps breaking down. Everyone, it seems, is playing a role, and struggling with who they're supposed to be.

And not coincidentally, when House visits Evan's dressing room, he takes a moment to lift up the actor's Emmy and stare into the mirror. Wish-fulfillment breaks the third wall, and just keeps on running.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

-A lot of great lines tonight, but this was my favorite exchange:

Inspector: "I've heard your name."

House: "Most people have. It's also a noun."

-Second favorite line, when Cuddy stumbles upon the team studying Evan's soaps: "What's this, The A.V. Club?"