What became clear to me as I watched Season One of "House, M.D.," is how the show walks a tightrope. There are few shows on television that are as formulaic as this one, where a patient with an unknown medical malady is brought into the hospital and Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), an infectious disease specialist, has to figure out the medical puzzle to save the patient from dying. Working with his team of young doctors, House spends most of a typical episode eliminating possibilities, which is a nice way of saying he is usually the wrong diagnosis until the final act. For example, in "Fidelity" a woman is brought in dead asleep and everything from tumors to breast cancer to rabbit fever is considered before House pulls African sleeping sickness out of his hat.
Obviously, if House walks in and is able to make the diagnosis much earlier than that, then they do not that much of a story. Still, there are episodes where the diagnosis is arrived at early on and the dramatic concern is getting the patient (or the hospital, etc.) to accept the treatment. In "Fidelity" the problem ends up being that somebody has to admit to having an affair to confirm the diagnosis. A better example of this type of episode is "DNR," where a legendary jazz musician is diagnosed as dying from ALS and House violates the DNR order to save the man's life. But even these variations on the theme ultimately just show how dominant the formula is here.
What makes "House" work is that the central character is so compelling, which is why my favorite episode is "Three Stories," which is the one that is most about House, even though he pretends it is not. House is a brilliant diagnostician but he is also rude, acerbic, and condescending in the extreme (and that is one a good day). I was thinking that House is one of those colorful characters, like Columbo or Monk, who has their own unique way of doing what they do, except that House is not as loveable. But then I have to admit there is something rather attractive about somebody who does not put up with the rules when they get in the way, who takes pleasure in finding interesting ways to insult people to their face, and who is able to get away with everything because he is so good at what he does.
But I got tired of Columbo after a few years and House is more like Monk in providing a supporting cast for the title character to play against. In terms of his team of clinicians they are all on House's bad side to begin with because they are young and inexperienced, but each is presented as pushing a particular button for House: Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) is female, Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) is black, and Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) provides a double dip by being both rich and English. Not that House has a prejudicial bone in his body (just the bad one in his leg and a need to get under people's skin). Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) rubs House the wrong way because she is (technically) his boss, but the chief fun there is bouncing back and forth between demeaning her as a doctor and as a bureaucrat. Then there is Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), who is literally House's only friend in the world on the strength of being able (and willing) to stand toe-to-toe and argue things out.
The introduction of billionaire Edward Vogel (Chi McBride) as the clinic's new Chairman of the Board ("Control") was an unnecessary major subplot in Season One because giving more system for a guy who bucks the system to buck is just overkill and adding obstacles that can only kill people gets old quickly. Vogel's attempt to get House to fire one of his doctors ("Heavy") was interesting because it revealed that his team are pretty interchangeable; for some reason I was thinking that it would make more sense if each had their own specialties, but then I decided that does not make sense, either in terms of how you treat an expert in infectious diseases or having writers understand who is responsible for what in each script.
Another thing that Season One proved is that House's romantic life is not in the present, but in the past. Cameron's attempt to force a date with House ("Love Hurts") was painful, while the arrival of ex-flame Stacy Warner (Sela Ward) for the last two episodes simply proves House's sex appeal is as man of mystery. Hints that there might be an actual human being behind that facade are all that are going to work, and as another person who knew House before he needed a cane, Warner allows a few more looks behind the mask. The main thing is that the writers have as much fun coming up with nasty things for House to say as Laurie has declaiming them with an American accent.