I like House M. D. very much overall, enough to start collecting the entire series on DVD; but Season One was actually the low point for me, largely because of the resolution of the plot-line involving CEO Edward Vogler. I gave the season a 3-star rating because even with that significant disappointment, I thought House M. D. was better than average as a medical drama. Two stars would have been too harsh.
By comparison, all of the other seasons but seven (which hasn't aired yet as of the date of this review) have been outstanding.
As with any series, season one's writing, context, themes, characterizations, production, et al, experienced some initial unevenness as cast and crew worked through their adjustments to each other and the series. For example, there was the almost unbelievable degree to which the characters interfered in each others' personal lives. Yes, there are busybodies everywhere, especially in such interactive workplace settings as hospitals. However there were times when the Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital seemed more like the Princeton Plainsboro Junior High School - a building populated by self-appointed experts in everything, especially the one thing they all seemed to do worst: handle their own interpersonal relationships.
In one sequence two of the characters seem ready to begin tentative dating. One of them asks the other not to tell their coworkers anything about it. Now, what would a junior high school student do? You guessed it. The "personal" secret is divulged within seconds of the promise not to do so. Immediately thereafter, the other members of the clique weigh in with their expert advice.
Events like these tended to moderate somewhat towards the end of the season. Unfortunately, no one ever said anything realistic like "shut up and mind your own business", as if any of these characters would have complied. On the other hand, the close personal friendships that might include such interventions did become more easily identified as the series progressed, as did the usual shallow manipulators found everywhere, here elevated to the level of caricature.
All of the foregoing is to be expected in a new series. That House M. D. survives this adjustment in style is a testament to what is positive about the series.
With the entry of the new CEO Edward Vogler, things got really interesting. The show's producers and writers were faced with the challenge of creating an antithesis for Dr. House. This could not have been easy given the already established complexities of the character, as well as House's ability to serve as his own antithesis. They came up with a brilliant idea. They combined the characters of Drs. House, Cutty, and Wilson, and created Vogler as the antithesis to the combination.
Before I go into the major spoilers, I'll describe part of the scenario without giving away any critical details - I hope. I've re-read the following paragraphs a few times and I don't believe I've said anything that would ruin the watching of this particular plot-line for a new viewer. If you're worried about that, you might want to skip the rest of this review. If you're not, keep reading until you get to the in-your-face spoiler warning.
Now then - in one corner was Edward Vogler, the hospital's worst nightmare: a new self-appointed CEO with a lot of money the hospital needed and an agenda that had nothing to do with healthcare. He ruled a pharmaceutical empire and was out to bring in big business for himself and his corporation. He was played in fantastic form by Chi McBride and was a delight to watch as he played the villainous genius.
In the other corner was the good-guy genius, the gestalt House/Cutty/Wilson. House was the irascible rebel aspect, all medical talent and drive for that talent, unwilling to let anything get in between him and his advocacy for his patients. In fact he used the word often whenever asked to explain why he persevered with a patient against seemingly impossible medical and bureaucratic odds: "I advocated for my patient." Like Vogler, he would not compromise.
Cutty was the mediating aspect, trying desperately to come up with a way out of the mess that would salvage something positive. She was uncertain at first. She made mistakes. But she figured it out and opted for the only sane solution, as painful as the necessary sacrifices were to make that happen.
Wilson was pure loyalty, House's closest friend for reasons they themselves didn't completely understand, but never in question when it came to knowing what should be done. He picked up the slack in Cutty's uncertainty.
With players like Hugh Laurie as Dr. House, Lisa Edelstein as Dr. Cutty, and Robert Sean Leonard as Dr. Wilson arrayed against Chi McBride's Vogler character, a virtual nuclear war for control of the hospital ensued. For his part, Vogler was honest about what he wanted. It wasn't about the money. He wanted House's obedience.
While the war was great fun to watch, the outcome contained two elements I did not like. That's where the major spoilers come in. So,
*** WARNING WARNING WARNING ***
*** MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW ***
*** DON'T READ ON UNLESS YOU'VE ALREADY SEEN THE OUTCOME, OR YOU DON'T MIND KNOWING SOMETHING ABOUT IT ***
Two medical emergencies, one proving to be fatal for one patient, occurred just prior to the end of the conflict. Meanwhile, Vogler was in the process of trying to eliminate his competition on the Board of Directors - by then both Cutty and Wilson had voted against him - so that he could get a unanimous vote to fire House.
In one of the emergencies, House and his team were trying to treat a pregnant woman who was undergoing a number of grave physical and psychological crises. Treatment of the mother's illness could kill the baby. A C-Section at that time carried a 20% mortality risk for the baby.
After some give and take with his staff and the parents, House decides that the optimum solution for mother, child, and father, is to deliver the baby by C-Section as soon as possible. Treatment for the mother's serious illness would follow immediately after delivery.
Just as the C-Section surgery was about to begin, Vogler called directly into the operating room and canceled the surgery. I wasn't clear on his exact justification for doing that, but it was obvious that he was making his final moves to get House out of the picture.
The mother then developed another serious complication that ultimately will kill her. House informs the father that the only option at that point was to save the child. The C-Section was then performed successfully but the mother died as expected.
It seemed clear to me that had the original C-Section surgery not been canceled by Vogler, there was a chance that both mother and child would both have survived. The baby would have been delivered. At that time if the mother still experienced the complication, she could have been treated more aggresively because the baby would be in no danger from her emergency treatment.
Vogler ultimately lost his battle against the board by way of Cutty's final defiance and impassioned speech. What did not happen was any charge of culpability in the mother's death against Vogler. By interfering with that C-Section when he did, he prevented the doctors from being able to treat the mother aggressively when the additional complication occurred. Essentially, Vogler practiced medicine without a license. And as a demonstrable result, a patient died.
That was my major disappointment with the resolution of the Vogler plotline. Vogler's meddling killed a patient. Vogler did not pay for this crime.
My other disappointment concerned a somewhat less serious case. Am infant with low weight and seemingly poor nutrition problems was treated by House. He concluded that the Vegan diet given to the infant by her parents had compromised the nutrition of the child enough to palce the child in danger. However he did not personally consider their actions to be unlawful negligence. He made the judgment call that they had just been stupid and recommended a course of treatment including a healthy diet. He was confident that they would follow his instructions.
Vogler interfered with this treatment as well. He got wind of what House was doing and forced Cutty to call a state child support agents to have the parents arrested just as House was about to send the child home with them.
The parents made bail and immediately returned to the hospital to petition Dr. House to let them see the child. In the course of telling them that it was out of his hands legally, they told him that the child's Vegan diet and been supervised by a licensed nutritionist. He had not known this when he made the first diagnosis. He re-examined the child, found a medical condition unrelated to parental negligence, treated the child successfully, and got Cutty to reverse the charges against the couple.
I'm on shaky ground with this one because Vogler's culpability involves a little second-guessing. Technically, Vogler took advantage of a valid legal situation and an initial mistake by House to countermand what the doctor was doing. However, given the way House worked and how the series and progressed thus far, I realized the House would have eventually realized his mistake and treated the child successfully. Not only is this consistent with how he always works - but in this particular case, the child's non-response to the initial dietary treatment would have made him suspicious of another cause. He would have determined the real cause anyway, with no one being arrested in the interim.
Thus while what Vogel did was legalistically valid, the ultimate result was the arrest of the parents on false charges. This is where the word "unethical" comes into play. Once again, Vogler was practicing medicine without a license. And once again, a mistake at the expense of a patient and family was made. As before, Vogel did not suffer any liability for this mistake.
Vogel was of course tossed by the Hospital board by votes in favor of House, Wilson, and Cutty. But he also took his $100 million investment with him, and went back to being a plain old CEO of a pharmaceutical empire. His own board and stockholders may have taken offense against him at things House said during a speech on one of the company's new products. This was never mentioned in the series.
Vogel made costly mistakes in patient health and lives. His new drug was exposed as a sham by House at a press release. He got away with too much.
All of that was why the resolution of the Vogler plot-line in season one disappointed me. In was a huge anti-climax after the brilliantly played sparring between the major players.
Aside from those minor points, everything was fine. The series has been great otherwise.