House of Lies: Overview


Is that not one of the most ridiculous promo shots you’ve seen in a long time? Down to . . . is he holding a phallic, rolled-up affidavit!? Wait does that mean their ties . . . 

House of Lies – the smart, fast, fast-talking Showtime melodrama – recently began its third season. If you’re wondering whether to take the plunge, let me give you a rundown.

Since people like to relate shows to things they may already have see, it’s like Californication meets Matchstick Men, Wolf of Wall Street toned way down and told about a disparate dysfunctional family. All sex and smoke and mirrors, the show manipulates its images like the characters manipulate their clients. Often the show takes the easy way out, and cut to the next scene (or just cut to black) to avoid dealing with the consequences.

Exhibit A: Marty is driving a car he took from a strip club by pretending to be a valet. The drunk, angry owner with 100 witnesses to his rip-off has surely called the cops. Marty is driving that car 100 miles an hour down the freeway with his co-worker yelling ‘stop, Marty!’ It’s a metaphor for a man barely controlling his life, and enjoying the rush. Then, cut to black, roll credits, episode ends, it’s never mentioned again.

Exhibit B: Marty is in his office, pants around his ankles, stripper-turned-cliche-law-student under his desk, a vindictive client raving between the desk and the door. Marty’s cell phone rings, it’s his son’s principal. Lo and behold, the show cuts to Marty, suited up and calm, walking into the principal’s office.

This technique only exemplifies how the show isn’t about consequences, or the menial job of dealing with people, it’s about dodging them.

Speaking of cliches, the show generally traffics in them. The aforementioned lawer-cum-stripper. The very opening scene, which shows Marty sleeping with his ex, who happens to work for an opposing firm. The high-powered woman with daddy issues. The earth-mother school principal who was married to an uptight man but found renewal with her life-partner Diana. While some work, and characters calling them out works as well – even better when Matt Damon is playing one of those characters – they are too heavily relied on.

On the other hand, this is a show where the two high-powered genius principles are a black man and a woman, and the two sidekick, juvenile supporting characters are white men, so it is obviously out to either embrace or subvert every stereotype it can find.

Don Cheadle proves he can play unrepentant sinner as well as his saintly characters, and every time he breaks the fourth wall you feel both privileged and skeezed out. Kristen Bell goes against type as a privileged, sex-driven, often-second-guessing woman in the boys club, though her big speech in the Season 1 finale is made possible by the sort of roles she’s played before. Ben Schwartz plays a psychopathic and highly more capable version of his Parks and Rec character Jean-Ralphio. I’ve not seen Josh Lawson in anything else, but you have to be smart to play as naive as his browbeaten Doug Guggenheim.

The show was billed as a comedy, and thankfully I did not know that before I watched the first season, because  it’s not ha ha funny. At all. It’s sometimes darkly funny, but even that doesn’t take off for a while. It replaces laughs with gross displays of competence, arrogance, philandering, fast talking, political maneuvering, backstabbing, and eye rolling. Also, the visual spectacles, while not always working for the story, are generally very tricky and very pretty.

It’s a brutal commentary of a particular subculture and the people who populate it, and if there are any things I like in my commentaries, they’re ‘verbal’ and ‘brutality.’

Stray Observations

– The walk-ons are always exceptionally done caricatures. Check out the Mormon housekeeper and the couple at the wedding cake shop.

– Yes Jeannie (Bell’s character) has a panic attack, and yes, that’s the sort of thing I and others decried when The Newsroom did it. But the big differences are two.

First: everyone in the show is ultra-dysfunctional; Marty’s car theft was his panic attack, Doug is in a flop sweat every other episode, Clyde . . . apparently you have to have a soul first.

Second: Jeannie has a panic attack not at the concept of doing something the men around her can handle with ease (Newsroom), but at the concept of having to fit into a normative, stereotypical woman-role. Well played.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: