House: Season 6

House - Season 6I continue to be frustrated by House. Another season of 20+ episodes have gone past and maybe 60 minutes of footage made an impact on me. The problem is that those 60 minutes are breathtaking, beautiful writing, amazing acting and gorgeous storytelling. It’s the same every year, a few great episodes at the start, then by mid-season I’m tempted to give up, but just before I do the end of the season gets superb again. I feel all used and manipulated.

I’m not sure whether it’s because my criteria for ‘memorable’ are getting harsher, but I can probably remember as many cases this season as I can from the first season, and that was 6 years ago! It’s not even that they’re interesting while on screen, but not terribly memorable, I’ve been struggling to care and pay attention even when they’re gushing blood or screaming their heads off. The lack of subtlety when it comes to matching the patient with the personal issues House and his team are dealing with that week is getting increasingly hilarious; as is the repeated structure of how many times they’ll make the wrong diagnosis before a last minute save.

On the other hand, sometimes the slow burn stuff is a good thing, the way the characters very very slowly develop makes their little moments even more satisfying. They don’t change over night, or constantly go around talking about their feelings so that we all know what’s going on. The ways that the characters and their relationships develop, sometimes coming together, sometimes drifting apart is fascinating. The dynamics of something like the Cameron-Chase relationship was really carefully developed, as Chase became more certain of himself and embraced a lot of what House had been teaching, his relationship with Cameron had to change. Meanwhile whether it was the therapy, or the lack of drugs, House seemed more open to developing friendships – being more obvious in the small acts of kindness to Wilson, occasionally treating Taub as more of an equal in age, if not medical skill and even singing karaoke with Foreman and Chase. All the characters and relationships made sense, you could look back on the previous five seasons and see how they’d very slowly got to where they are.

For all those positives though there is one character and relationship that I’ve been against from pretty much the start. I have never understood how Lisa Cuddy is supposed to be a credible character. While she occasionally shows signs of manipulative brilliance, she more often appears an emotional mess, with a destructive obsession with a member of her staff that causes her to constantly overcompensate back and forth both privately and professionally. The balance of power has always bugged me, when she continually questions his treatments and then gives in after a suitably melodramatic scene, while also defending his medical genius against his critics she looks like an idiot. Gradually the personal issues have also intruded and come to a head this season. I’ve always felt they had good chemistry for fighting, but zero chemistry for romance and in a season where Cuddy is shown to be happy, with a baby, a boyfriend and a life… the way she allowed the shadow of House to still impact her life just made her look like a silly teenager.

When House is good, it’s absolutely superb. The opening trilogy was magnificent, the final episode emotionally devastating (until the last scene which was devastating for other reasons). It’s not that there are particularly ‘bad’ episodes, almost every episode has a scene, or even just a few lines that are delivered so beautifully I would rewind them, it’s just that the surrounding stuff is so unremarkable that it sometimes feels like a bit of a slog to get to the genius. But then, without the slog, maybe I wouldn’t appreciate the genius.

I’ll leave you, with some karaoke:


Trauma: Season 1

My pilot review highlighted the different meanings of the word trauma and how they applied to the show – both the action packed traumatic incidents the paramedics are called to and the emotional impact they have. There’s a third aspect that’s been introduced to the small number of us actually watching the show, the trauma of having the show cancelled after thirteen episodes, only to be picked up a couple of months later to see out the season. Now at the end of the season, after eighteen episodes, there’s no word on whether it will be back next season, but the odds aren’t looking particularly good.

All that is pretty disappointing as Trauma is actually one of my favourite shows of the year. I said of the pilot that I was intrigued, that the pace of the emergencies left me on the edge of my seat but that the emotional stuff was all a little too cliché. I don’t think anything really changed as the season went on, I just forgave the cheesy bits because I completely fell in love with the characters.

There’s a lot of ER in this show, the obvious similarities in subject, the “keep up or give up” approach to the fast paced medical talk but mostly the contrast in the characters. The medics in both ER and Trauma are hugely competent professionally: knowledgeable, decisive and passionate; while in their personal lives they’re bouncing haphazardly from one disaster to the next. But by having a strong ensemble, the ups and downs all smooth out, when one person is having a crisis they can rely on their partner (be it professional, platonic or romantic) to steady them along. The teamwork in Trauma is something I particularly loved, there’s a real sense that they’ve all been working together for a long time and complement each other well, integrating the new team members seamlessly into their family. The central relationship between Rabbit and Nancy is one of the best on television at the moment, they have a long and complicated history that is revealed and developed through the season, but even when they’re seemingly in conflict it’s still clear how much they care for each other.

Another plus is that it looks great. It’s wonderful to see a city other than New York or Miami and San Francisco’s steep streets, fog and Golden Gate Bridge add real colour and depth to the show. Most episodes have at least one big stunt, and they’re big, close up and exciting. A criticism I levelled at the Miami Medical pilot was that their car crash felt cgi’ed and over-processed. Trauma meanwhile feels visceral and real, the benefit of doing proper stunts on location. Of course the downside of that is that the show is expensive to make, not good when your ratings are less than stellar. But a few stunts can go a long way, and even when you just have the paramedics arrive at the scene after the event the music, direction and fast dialogue still manage to make everything exciting.

The only real problem with it (other than its poor ratings and expensive price tag) is that the cheese factor is pretty high at times. The parallels between the issues in the characters lives and the patients they meet are pretty unsubtle a lot of the time (although nowhere near as bad as House), and a couple of episodes veered perilously close to public service announcements on issues. The protracted saga of one of the team members coming out of the closet was particularly cheesy, which was a shame because the gay character in question is actually a really great, well rounded character.

I love Trauma because I love good characters and Trauma has some great characters. As a season it has a nice pace to it, with character and plot threads being introduced, developed and concluded; everything sort of undulates along nicely. Disappointingly the low point of the season was actually the final episode where I was waiting for a big end of season event that never really happened. I’m happy that we weren’t left with a cliff-hanger, that if that’s the end at least the series is self-contained. But I’m also quite sad that such a great show is just going to pass quietly into the night, with very few mourning its passing.

Links: Official Site at NBC, imdb,, Wikipedia.

White Collar: Season 1

White CollarDespite a fairly late start, White Collar is the first of the non-cancelled series to finish this year I think, certainly the only one that I’ve actually been watching. At fourteen episodes long the season felt compact and unpadded, with US seasons usually being at least 20 episodes long, this made a nice change.

Everything I said back in my October review of the pilot is carried through the rest of the season and if there were one word to sum it up I suspect it would be ‘nice’. This is old school Sunday evening entertainment that can be watched with the grandparents. There’s no sex, violence or swearing, even the crimes are mostly pretty civilised with a focus on heists and scams rather than murders and carnage.

The show isn’t a particularly complex one, but it is smart; while the mysteries aren’t terribly challenging they’re usually satisfyingly well thought out. The weekly plots are engaging but pretty instantly forgettable, while the mystery of Neil’s missing girlfriend is carefully paced through the season, moving very slowly, but never quite feeling like it’s being dragged out.

The best thing though is the characters, who have depth, charm and intelligence. While it may seem at first that Peter the FBI agent is straightforward and Neil the conman is the man of mystery, there’s more to it than that. Neil is actually quite straightforward, his motives are always very obvious he just uses convoluted methods. Peter meanwhile is more than capable of playing up his simple, good guy persona to surprise those around him with his knowledge and willingness to stretch the rules. The relationships between the two was fascinating from the start and matured organically, they trust and respect each other, but not blindly or limitlessly.

The second partnership of the show is equally well done, Tiffani Thiessen is absolutely brilliant as Elizabeth, Peter’s wife. They too trust and respect each other and after a decade of marriage, really understand each other. Neil meanwhile has the two sides of his conscience sitting on his shoulders. Mozzie is the slightly generic (but quite entertaining) ‘fixer’ from the old days, while June is his landlady who seems to have adopted the bad boy because she can see he has a good heart. They needle and nudge Neil in the same way Elizabeth does with Peter, sometimes to stay within the law, sometimes to step over the line, and sometimes to just rub the line out altogether.

This is a tea and biscuit kind of show to be watched when you don’t really feel like thinking, but don’t want something completely mindless. That’s a pretty hard thing to get excited about, it’s not going to win awards or be on many people’s top ten lists. But I think the cast and crew can be very proud of the fact that they’ve created something so consistent and just plain nice.

Links: Official Site, imdb, wikipedia,

White Collar is “coming soon” to Bravo.

Mad Men: Season 3

The pacing of this show is very strange, I can’t imagine watching it just one episode a week, with each episode ending in a somewhat random place and no stories ever really being wrapped up (like life I guess). But watching all 13 episodes it as I did reveals the careful developments and precision plotting, until it all comes together in a breath-taking final episode, where just a single line from a character, or even just a glance beautifully rounds out their story. While I found myself a little bored by the ongoing sagas in the Draper household, life in the advertising agency was fascinating and season 4 looks set to be equally exciting. The ensemble cast is amazing, I’ve not always thought Jon Hamm as impressive as others have, but this season’s storylines gave more range to the character and he is well deserving of the praise. I can’t wait for next season.