Medicine is a dependable career because people will always get sick. Similarly, a series about a diagnostician has a ready market because people will always get sick...and suffer through dozens of specialists and cavalier take-a-pill encounters in the quest to fix themselves. Misanthropic Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is an oddly macho champion in our HMO age. A maverick with a disdain for patients but a passion for nailing what ails them, House has the guts to order any tests and drugs he thinks might work. ''What would you want: a doctor who holds your hand while you die or who ignores you while you get better?'' he snaps. Indifference never seemed so heroic.
Houseis backed by a team that includes a benevolent buddy (the cajoling Robert Sean Leonard) and a dubious newbie (ER's Omar Epps, in a welcome TV return). Like a much-needed medical Justice League, the group combines its powers Neurology! Immunology! Oncology! to diagnose mysterious killer diseases. As a nation whose local newscasts trumpet how our bedsheets and groceries might kill us, we're hooked on reports of SARS, West Nile, and, this year, influenza. House slyly exploits that exploitation, outstyling its somber NBC rival, Medical Investigation.
This is a series where the devil is in the details (Bryan Singer, who directed that sneaky noir The Usual Suspects, is an exec producer). The mantra is banged home in House's banal part-time clinic work. He dispatches these cases with the scorn of a teenager forced to solve a Ranger Rick rebus puzzle: The doctor advises one overly tanned man to cut down on the carrots and niacin because the blend has turned him orange and then warns that his wife is cheating because otherwise she'd have noticed her husband looks citrusy.
Brit actor Laurie's past TV experience includes an inspired turn as cordial bumbler Bertie in the BBC's Jeeves & Wooster series(and what a series!), and his Dr. House is foppish Bertie's antithesis: One leg doesn't work anymore, the result of a poor diagnosis that has left him reliant on painkillers and a cane. His stubble is of the 10 o'clock variety; his muscles are 3 a.m. tense. Laurie's so good, his Housian bitterness can be graded from free-floating annoyance to hang-it-all nihilism.
Between Laurie's more-great-than-good doctor and cases that encompass everything from bad ham to complete body meltdown, House preys on all that's wrong (and some of what's right) with modern medicine. First-season grade: B+