Dear House (the show), you have officially jumped the shark.

For those not familiar with the term “jumping the shark” it refers to the point when a television show begins to rely on stunt gags (usually pretty absurd) and alters the roles characters play. If you want more information on the term, Wikipedia. Otherwise, just take away the understanding that jumping the shark means a show goes psycho in an effort to keep things interesting and, more often than not, ultimately fails horribly by losing all of its original charm and goodness.

A week ago, I wouldn’t have expected to say this. Because a week ago, House (yes, still the show…which will be referred to as HOUSE from this point forward) was changing, but it was absolutely brilliant. The two-hour season premiere was so amazing I didn’t want to even attempt to analyze it. But the main observation I made was that the premiere really hit on one of the major elements of HOUSE that makes the show work – an element that has been degrading over time. Namely, it is all about Gregory House (and the performance genius that is Hugh Laurie). Two hours, a sentence from Wilson, an army of new and largely undeveloped characters, and nonstop focus on House (the character)  are all that the premiere needed to be a successful episode. I thought that was an indication that things were looking upward for a show I have become increasingly disenchanted with over the last two years.

I have now seen the second episode of the season, “Epic Fail” and found it to be embarrassingly aptly named. Even though the theme of this season is purportedly changes in House, there were NO CHANGES in HOUSE. AND, to reconnect with my opening paragraph, someone decided that it was necessary to write all that VR shit into the episode.

This episode was not new. I felt like I had seen the entire thing before. We already know that focusing an entire episode on Foreman and Thirteen doesn’t work. We already know that putting Foreman in charge doesn’t work. The one truly different thing that changed in this episode was the fact that the hospital dynamic shifted completely (if briefly). But it fundamentally changed. Because House wasn’t off throwing a fit or spiraling downward into self-loathing and trying to avoid thinking about the case but still thinking about it and always available to rush in and save the day at the last moment because that what he does. As of the opening of the episode, House was, for all intents and purposes, gone. And instead of taking advantage of that to really write some new material and turn the hospital on its side – for real this time, – the script just followed its same old path and made House’s slip up at the end completely uninteresting. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have seen it coming anyway (it is, after all, still HOUSE/House). But it could have been handled so much better.

And, more to the point, it could have been done without spending way too much time on that VR bit. Yes, I realize the technology is cool. And I will concede that transforming the hospital into the game and Thirteen into a knock-off of the Borg Queen was pretty damn sweet. But it was also damned stupid. Top-performing FOX procedurals (I’m thinking of two very specific episodes of Bones here) have, in the last season and a half, taken up an alarming trend of not going with what works and keeps working for them and instead throwing in crazily overdone out-of-reality bits. And also excerpts of Family Guy. If the only shark-jumping type thing that happened in “Epic Fail” was Chase’s out-of-character wiseness, I probably wouldn’t be going on this tirade. But, since I’ve now put a fair amount of time and energy into considering this, I am completely fired up and have one very loud and very clear thing to say: THIS MADNESS HAS TO STOP.

THE GOOD NEWS, is that I think it will. Bones seems to have recovered well from its lapses last season, so that provides a reason for optimism. But more importantly, it looks like all the real problems with HOUSE are beginning to be solved. Because it looks like Taub and Thirteen are on their way out, and whispsers say that Cameron and Chase are back in (although Jennifer Morrison is reportedly leaving the show after this season). The fact of the matter is, HOUSE started going screwy when the old team broke up and the new characters moved in. I don’t mean that the only way for HOUSE to work is for it to stay exactly the same always. That gets boring. But I think the writers changed the wrong things last time they tried to shake up the building monotony that all procedurals are prone to. I’m hoping that now they are working to not only resolve and repair that mistake, but also to learn from what went wrong and move in a better (but still different) direction.

Keeping House in therapy is a good first step. Because it has been a long damn time since House has had a rapport with any character who has something new to say. We’ve heard everything from Foreman, Wilson, Cuddy, Chase, and Cameron. Taub and Thirteen don’t really have anything to bring to the table. But Andre Braugher‘s Dr. Nolan is a new character with a valid and fresh point of view.

“Roll your meatballs and keep an open mind.”

I’m trying; I really am. (But if I had my druthers, House would be institutionalized for at least five episodes. Because that was brilliant stuff.)

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