House of Lies – The First Season
Created by Matthew Carnahan.
Starring Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz, Donis Leonard Jr., Josh Lawson, Glynn Turman, Dawn Olivieri, Griffin Dunne and Richard Schiff.
Marty Kaan and his three associate consultants are brought in by companies to help solve problems in business. They are often tactful, intermittently rash, and always successful – but life isn’t always so slick, as the four continually find out.
Thanks to Showtime’s lenient censorship rules (mostly in part to its premium cable licensing), programmes like Dexter, Californication and House of Lies are allowed to contain a lot of nudity. Gratuitous or not, sometimes a little skin adds to the entertainment factor. Sometimes.
House of Lies’ first episode begins with a nude Don Cheadle lying – arse up in the air – on top of a naked beauty. Striking for a first scene, it still gives you a good idea about what type of character Marty Kaan is. The next 12 episodes contain at least one incident similar to the pilot’s opening though they rarely develop characters or plot, appearing to be there purely because they can be. Nudity becomes just one of the distracting and detrimental factors to the narrative advancement.
Plot does not appear to be the show’s primary concern; instead, nifty visuals and a post-modern handling of exposition are clearly where the writers’ and directors’ priorities lie. Much like Hiro stopping time in Heroes and walking through the frozen environment, Marty Kaan has the power to halt any proceedings and talk to the audience as time stands still. The first few examples of this dynamic are exciting and fresh but you soon come to realise it’s merely a way to side-step going in to complete detail. While you’re dazzled at the image, Kaan explains some consultancy jargon that you needn’t feel implored to listen to. Due to this, many stories involving a new client are instantly forgettable and the only thing keeping you watching is the play between the four main actors.
The cast is arguably where its strengths lie. Recent Golden Globe winner Cheadle (robbing Louis C.K of the more deserving win for Louie) has a charisma perfect for this type of role. He eats up his scenes though is perhaps too clear-cut (a straight up egotistical, job-obsessive, sex-crazed shark) to make a real impression in the contemporary television circuit. The character’s more fascinating quality is his relationship with his son, a 10 year-old with a confused sexual-orientation. It occasionally doesn’t help Cheadle that his supporting cast (mainly those working with him in the firm) are brilliant to watch. Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson steal the show in every episode, whilst Kristen Bell’s Jeannie is written and acted with a lot more fervour than most of the men. The comedy of House of Lies rests squarely with the main four’s dialogue and interaction. It frequently makes you laugh out loud and keeps the light-hearted nature of the show always in mind. When seriousness strikes it is horribly noticeable, making the characters react unnaturally in comparison to their regular behaviour.
Such tensions arise with the “Rainmaker” and Galweather characters (Griffin Dunne and Richard Schiff – two great actors miscast for this). Their scenes are laced with lots of consultancy conversations and heavy exposition making the two wonderful actors a sight for sore eyes. As Galweather and the Rainmaker have considerable influence on the firm you would imagine their part in the programme wields some force. Despite this assumption the writers drearily introduce some conflict in relation to the firm’s owners leaving it as a boring cliff-hanger to the season’s finale.
Season 2 may be right around the corner but House of Lies has not done an awful lot to keep its audience ardently wanting more. If there is any type of hankering it will probably be for a Virgin America/Atlantic flight, a part of the show’s product placement that is never subtle. Had House of Lies been more lucidly devised it could have been a thrilling show. It sets out to present a dramatic and often humorous look at the world of slick consultancy yet struggles to maintain a consistent tone.
DVD Extras: Cast interviews, features on characters, costume and consultancy, and commentaries – none all that interesting but interviews do have some funny moments.